Movie review by Greg Carlson
Director Danny Boyle, a stylish filmmaker who always manages to provide audiences with something to chew on, does not seem a likely candidate to make a heartwarming tale of a philanthropic little boy dealing with the death of his mother. Despite its mostly tender pleasantness, however, “Millions” steers clear of mawkishness, and turns out to be the kind of entertainment that people of many different ages will enjoy. “Millions” cannot properly be called a children’s movie, but it certainly contains an alluring central design that all kids fantasize about: the sudden appearance of instant wealth unencumbered by responsibility to any grown-ups.
As young Damian, Alex Etel makes a striking feature debut. The pint-sized, freckled thespian will surely draw adoring sighs from the audience, but his preternatural intelligence tempers his cuteness. Moving with his brother and father into a brand new housing development, Damian makes off with several large packing boxes to construct a little fort along the nearby railroad tracks. Inexplicably, a duffel bag bursting at the seams with cash literally seems to fall out of the sky. Its impact just misses the boy, but takes out a section of his cardboard castle. Damian alerts brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) to the fortune, and before you know it, the kids have started spreading their windfall.
While Damian is immediately taken with the idea that the money can be used to help others, Anthony buys tech toys, cool sunglasses, and the friendship of his new classmates. In one hilarious image, Boyle depicts Anthony riding into the schoolyard on the back of a pal’s bike, surrounded by jogging minders who look just like miniature versions of secret service agents in a presidential motorcade. Anthony also seems to have a solid grasp of the value of real estate investments, while Damian is content to stuff fistfuls of cash though the mail slot of a nearby group of Mormons.
Boyle introduces several engaging complications, including the “Great Expectations”-esque appearance of a stocking cap-wearing baddie sniffing around for the loot, a love interest for Damian’s pop, and the imminent conversion of pounds to euros, which means that Damian’s riches come with the urgency of an expiration date. The film’s other primary gimmick is Damian’s ability to carry on imaginary conversations with a variety of long dead saints. Boyle manages this busy palette with aplomb, and the director’s signature penchant for skillful, on-the-ball visuals enlivens the story from start to finish.
Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (“24 Hour Party People”) screenplay excels in its ability to tap into the particular logic of childhood, and despite a few head-scratching turns in the final act, hurtles forward with just the right amount of speed and momentum. While there is no question the film’s point of view belongs to Damian, it might have been nice to spend a few more scenes developing the relationship between Damian’s father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) and new friend Dorothy (Daisy Donovan). Boyce should certainly be praised, however, for his ability to sketch such believable generosity in a young boy. “Millions” is tenacious in its avoidance of too much cynicism, and that is refreshing indeed.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/2/05.