March 26, 2005

MOVIES: Millions (Danny Boyle, 2004)

Millions is a family flick, which is not exactly what you'd expect from Danny Boyle, who directed Trainspotting and 28 Days Later.

Damian, who is about 8 or 9, is playing in his cardboard-box fort when a duffel bag comes flying through the air, smashing the fort to bits. The bag is filled with money -- more than 200,000 pounds -- and Damian and his older brother, Anthony, begin arguing about what to do with the money.

Damian is obsessed with the lives of the Catholic saints, and several of them visit him during the movie; he recognizes each immediately and knows exactly why they are saints. So of course, Damian wants to do good with the money and give it to the poor.

Anthony doesn't have any particular plans for the money, but he does think they should keep it for themselves, and charity isn't practical. "There aren't any poor people here," he says. "The housing values keep them away."

In any event, the boys don't have much time to make up their mind, because (in this particular fictional universe) England is about to convert to the euro, and all of these pound notes will be worthless in about two weeks.

Boyle directs with great visual style; something as simple as three men rounding a corner on bicycles becomes a memorable image of grace and beauty. Damian's saints wear halos that spin above their heads like transparent Frisbees, and a scene in which we see a house being built in rapid motion, with the boys watching from the inside, is a marvel.

Alex Etel plays Damian, and he's perfect in the role, wanting to be good without ever becoming sanctimonious or creepy. Lewis McGibbon's Anthony isn't quite so well defined, but I'd blame that more on the script (by Frank Cottrell Boyce) than on the actor.

The obligatory subplot in which Damian is menaced by the crook who wants his money back doesn't work as well as the rest of the movie; Christopher Fulford is just a bit too thuggish for the movie's tone. And since that subplot dominates the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, the movie ends less well than it began.

But even with a somewhat weak ending, Millions is a sweet story, told with light charm and great fun, and centered by Etel's lovely performance.

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