4 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 98 minutes
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Say what you want about Danny Boyle, he’s definitely not one to be easily pigeonholed. For starters, he followed up his sleeper hit “Trainspotting” with the decidedly lighter-hearted “A Life Less Ordinary,” and that with “28 Days Later,” a film lauded and lambasted on almost equal levels (we’ll ignore “The Beach” for now). Now then, if you were a director chiefly known for irreverent depictions of junkies and a digitally shot “viral thriller,” what would be your next effort? Why, a family friendly film about two brothers who happen upon a satchel full of cash, of course.

“Millions” is the story of Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel) and Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon), two brothers who have just moved into a new house with their father following the untimely death of their mother. Damian is a generous soul, with a scholar’s knowledge of Christian saints. So obsessed is he, in fact, that they often drop in on him in his hermitage, built out of cardboard boxes. It’s after one of these visits (from St. Clare of Assisi, Patron Saint of Television, in case you were wondering), that the aforementioned bag o’ money literally falls into Damian’s lap.

Damian immediately informs Anthony of the sudden windfall, but where Damian is a generous soul (he sincerely believes the money is from God), Anthony is an über-capitalist, shopping for scuba scooters and paying off classmates to serve as his entourage. Philosophical differences aside, both boys are faced with the same dilemma: England is only days away from converting to the Euro. The money, over 200 thousand British pounds, will soon be worthless unless they can figure out a way to spend it.

Using the words “family friendly” to describe a film are usually sufficient to drive most of us into a black hole of drink and despair, but Boyle never allows “Millions” to become precious or, worse, preachy. Damian may be constantly looking for ways to give the money to the poor, but no editorial comment is made about his or Anthony’s (or, later, their father’s) decision to spend the money. Their exploits also remind each of us of the fleeting daydreaming we allow ourselves every time we decide to ignore the realities of probability and buy a lottery ticket.

The money, of course, didn’t just fall out of the sky. Soon enough, the “rightful” owner of the bag comes calling. Unlike previous Boyle efforts, the bad guy in “Millions” isn’t too scary. Sure, his entrances are preceded by creepy breathing noises, but this guy isn’t Begbie or Major West, he’s just a thief, and one a couple of lads shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with. With a little luck and some divine intervention, that is.

The idea of people happening upon an unexpected fortune is hardly new, even for Boyle. In this respect, “Millions” is a lot like “Shallow Grave,” one of the director’s earlier efforts (minus the murders and graphic violence). As with the latter, “Millions” in centered by strong performances. Etal and McGibbon are note perfect as Damian and Anthony, and never fall into the domestically produced trap of coming across as too precocious or as wise asses. And while the film revolves around questions of right and wrong, the underlying theme is that of loss. The money merely serves as a distraction from the mother’s absence, which affects everyone in the family in different ways.

“Millions” is that rarest of creatures: a family film – one of surprising warmth – that won’t have adults reaching for an airsick bag. Do yourself a favor, skip the focus group features starring whichever flavor-of-the-month is popular with the tween crowd these days and go see “Millions” instead. If I’m wrong, I’ll refund you the price of admission.

In British pounds.

Posted on April 3, 2005 in Reviews by

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