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MILLIONS (PG) (2004)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Official Site

Director: Danny Boyle

Producers: Andrew Hauptman, Graham Broadbent, Damian Jones

Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Cast: Alexander Nathan Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford


As Danny Boyle’s latest bit, Millions, draws to a close, you become dimly aware of a faint, surround-sound symphony: demure sniffles and clandestine throat-clearings, emanating with the periodic frequency of fireflies from sundry points about the darkened theatre. A fair portion of your fellow hard-working movie-goers, you realize, are blubbering softly into their popcorn. It is only then that you begin to feel a bit less silly for having started up the waterworks yourself.

Yes, as you might well have concluded from the trailer, or perhaps from nary more than a glance at the angelic face beaming outward from the movie poster, Millions is “one of those.” But it is a very, very good one of those. The medium is teeming with schlock-by-number sap-fests eager to take a stab at the ol’ heart-strings; it is far less frequent an occasion to find a story that manages to throw a little earnestness into the mix. Heart, in a word, makes the difference, and the magical Millions has heart in spades.

The story is an inventive twist on an older-than-dirt moral conundrum—two young British brothers, recently motherless, stumble upon a gym bag full of money from a train heist, but have a little over a week until the United Kingdom makes the change-over to the euro and the haul is worthless. What follows is a spirited character study of the boys as they attempt to manage their unexpected bounty according to their divergent worldviews. Business-savvy Anthony (McGibbon), the elder of the pair, quickly acquires an entourage and increased visibility in their new school, then sets about checking off items on an ever-burgeoning wish list. Younger Damian (Etel), the faithful soul of the picture who makes personal heroes of the Catholic saints, immediately begins looking for avenues by which to help others and soon becomes deeply concerned that he will never find “enough poor people.”

If you’re going to do a kid-heavy heartwarmer, rule one is to secure for yourself a large-eyed, golden-souled urchin for the lead, preferably a “newcomer,” as in “newcomer Haley Joel Osment.” Well, Boyle has gone and netted himself a doozie. Freckle-faced newcomer Alexander Etel couldn’t be any more inescapably adorable if he had heart-sneezing puppies coming out of his ears. Thing is, the kid’s good, too—he carries the picture so effortlessly that it very early ceases even to be impressive; it just is. This, of course, is a towering compliment to Boyle’s direction as well, but Etel holds his own. So, too, do the rest of the movie’s largely pint-sized cast. Older brother Anthony provides a believable counterpoint to Damian’s head-in-the-clouds guilelessness; McGibbon is uncommonly mature as both character and child actor—funny when he is asked to be, emotionally convincing otherwise. One of the film’s nicest laughs comes when Anthony, waxing Greenspannish on exchange rates and money matters, leads bewildered father Ronnie (Waking Ned Devine’s James Nesbitt) confidently around a bank, causing Nesbitt to stop suddenly and utter, “Where did I get you?”

Supporting these astute performances is a chorus of likewise precocious English children, through whose preternaturally capable hands much of the action is allowed to pass. Indeed, there are moments in which Millions is not unlike a British answer to David Mickey Evans’ baseball children’s crusade The Sandlot, with an added dose of religiosity and funny talking. (Child actor + British accent = better child actor.)

Incidentally, the over-21 portion of the cast does an admirable job as well. Nesbitt provides wonderfully comic moments as the twitchy, slightly spastic Ronnie, but keeps it intimately real through adeptly subtle emotion and characterization. Dorothy (Donovan), Ronnie’s love interest and the second-most visible adult in the picture, is so lively and goofily charismatic that she threatens to enter kid-country in terms of adorability. In stark contrast to these is the dark presence of Christopher Fulford as a train robber back for his cut. Fulford’s character is about as uni-dimensional as they come (he enters to a virtual villain’s suite, for crying out loud,) but he is nonetheless menacing and effective. (Partial credit for that, though, may again be attributed to Boyle’s directing and sense of visual style.) The film is further enriched by the intermittent presence of smaller but amusing characters, among them Pearce Quigley as a particularly dispassionate police officer, three fair-haired tongue-in-cheek Mormons, and a bevy of colorful saints as spiritual guides for young Damian.

With Millions, Boyle further cements his reputation as a shape-shifter. At first glance, this family-centered tale of miracles and love may seem out of step for the fringe-dwelling Brit, famous here for more gritty offerings. But an attentive eye catches tell-tale Boyle-isms—traces of Trainspotting in the frenetic editing and unblinking mesh of fantasy and reality, of 28 Days Later in the sincerely terrifying chase scenes and persona associated with Fulford’s villain, even of A Life Less Ordinary in the intercession of heavenly agents in sublunary life.

But more deeply, Boyle’s messages of faith and belief in the human spirit are present in these works, particularly in this, his latest. Millions may be a hair gushy, but in all the ways you want it to be.

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Itís worth a matinee ticket.

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Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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