Millions, in many ways, resembles its eclectic director: Danny Boyle is known for primarily two successful films: the drug-induced drama Trainspotting and the nihilistic zombie horror 28 Days Later… Having to guess what his third achievement would be, I doubt many people would predict a spiritual and coming-of-age tale of two pre-teen brothers. And along with that surprise is the film itself, starting with a bag of a quarter-million pounds (half a million bucks?) landing in Damian’s (Alexander Nathan Etel) cardboard box of wonder. With games of make-believe penetrated by a surreal reality, the 97-minute look into family dynamics, money, love, loss and the pursuit of happiness is set into motion.
Boyle himself chooses a very eccentric style. Many scenes boast an almost ethereal quality. One example is when Damian and his older and less imaginative brother Anthony talk on their newly purchased cell-phones, as we cut from close-ups of them to far shots with a giant red light going up into the off-screen sky to their satellites. Constantly backed by composer John Murphy’s innocent and video game-esque score, Boyle repeats what he’s done in his past two triumphs, taking the audience right into the character’s worlds and, in this case, imagination. Introspective conversations with a dead mother and saints (Damian loves saints) fit its characters so well, one can’t help but think of the toilet swim drug trip from Trainspotting and the red tint attack on the camera in 28 Days Later… Boyle has a gift in making his characters’ exquisite world ours as well. In that respect, he’s somewhat of a British Darren Aronofsky.
The film itself, set in Edinburgh, Scotland, surrounds the money just as much as it does the children. The cash that lands in Damian’s cardboard box is part of a large-scale robbery, one of hundreds of bags that a team of criminals robbed from the British government, days before the pound is converted to the euro and becomes a valueless thing of the past. This twist brings criminals that no doubt that look for their missing bag and a multi-layered personal attack on Damian’s three-male family’s ethics. There are tense moments in the film, as Damian and the criminals’ paths no doubt converge. However, this tension is abandoned and solved in a poor and, what seems like, last-minute manner. What keeps Millions from being a true gem is the amount of time it spends setting up the story. The second act is far too short and, while beautifully shot, becomes overshadowed by its longer and repetitive third act.
What does succeed, however, is how the power of family is captured. There is a definite Running on Empty quality to this film, as father and son are both met by paralleled obstacles along the way. Women are represented as such delicate and nurturing people that, when following these abandoned men for the majority of the film, an overwhelming feeling of both interdependent solace and isolation erupts. Viewing the film through young Damian’s eyes makes the events less dramatic and more revealing, as he is able to come to terms with his mother’s death. Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce has quite a talent at characterization and narrative storytelling. Had he only moved ten pages from resolution to the body of the plot, then Millions just might have been a classic. Regardless, Danny Boyle’s newest film does belong with his other two stand-out films and, because of its visual achievements and genuine message, Millions deserves a strong recommendation. This is a PG movie following two boys, but what it catches is something much deeper and stronger than any similarly-billed film has before.
Archived article by Dan Cohen
Sun Staff Writer