MillionsSynopsis: From The Imagination Of Danny Boyle

It’s holiday season and seven-year-old Damian believes he’s received a divine gift from above when a suitcase filled with cash literally falls out of the sky. Damian is anxious to share the wealth with those less fortunate while his fun-loving brother Anthony would rather spend it like there’s no tomorrow! But when the loot turns out to be stolen, both boys’ plans are put to the test-with heartwarming and hilarious results.


Millions 8.0

eyelights: Danny Boyle’s direction. Alex Etel’s performance. the film’s message.
eyesores: the incoherence of last act.

“I thought it was from God… who else would have that kind of money?”

‘Millions’ is a Danny Boyle film that takes place in England, around Christmas time in a near-future where the British pound is about to be eradicated by the adoption of the Euro. It revolves around a pair of young brothers who, struggling with the loss of their mother, find a bag full of money and make plans to use it.

It’s a film about the value of money and about charity – which is in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, even though the actual celebration is mostly a backdrop. In fact, ‘Millions’ is far more concerned with the conversion from GBP to Euro than about Christmas, which is interesting given that this has never actually happened.

‘Millions’ is very much family-friendly fare, unlike most of Danny Boyle’s pictures. As of this writing, it is Boyle only non-Restricted film. And although it has some short sinister moments towards the end, it is quite innocuous as a whole, taking on the allure of a fantastical morality play through the eyes of an seven-year-old boy.

The picture begins with beautiful fairytale-like music à la ‘Edward Scissorhands‘, setting the tone. We are soon introduced to the siblings, and will focus primarily on Damian, the youngest, who is fascinated with saints, reading up on them and extolling their virtues in class. He frequently wonders if, in death, his mom has become a saint.

In fact, he often asks about her. Throughout the course of the picture, he gets visitations by various saints, providing him with their advice or just telling him about their lives before and after death. Is it all in his mind, or is this actually taking place? The film isn’t very clear on that, although the book apparently suggests hallucination.

(Having said this, he is always alone when he sees these saints, so there is absolutely nothing to counter the notion that he is actually visited by them. And he has a visit with his mother which suggests that they were in fact real, given that his brother also saw her. Why would Damian see his mother but merely invent the others? To me, this would be inconsistent.)

Damian is a kind boy, innocent yet smart. When a duffel bag full of cash crashes into the cardboard hideaway that he’s made by the train tracks, he immediately imagines that it fell from the sky, that God has given it to him – so he wants to use it to do good deeds. His brother, Anthony, however, is far too cynical and cautious to let him spread it around.

Concerned that the government would tax them and take away much of it, Anthony convinces Damian to keep the money hidden; they would only tell a few friends and spend the money discretely. But their plans would change: Damian will begin to use it to do his good deeds, while Anthony begins to consider long-term investments, including real estate.

Their actions will change lives, including their father’s (who is unaware of their vast, newly-found fortune), by introducing him to a single woman with whom he’s instantly smitten. But it will also attract some far more dubious attention, in the form of a stranger who is suddenly lurking about the town, watching the boys.

In some ways, ‘Millions’ made me think of a more optimistic ‘Shallow Grave’, what with its plot device of the found money, the questions arising around the money, and so forth. It even has someone hiding in the attic with the loot. I couldn’t help but wonder why Boyle, a director who tends to attempt something new each time he makes a film, would repeat himself.

In fact, the same thought crossed my mind when the family watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. And I wondered about the similarities between the television ads featuring the old man giving financial advice from a sleigh (with a hottie dressed as Santa at his side) and the Billy Mack promos in ‘Love Actually‘. Did he realize that he was echoing another’s film?

I guess it doesn’t matter, in the end. What’s important is that it’s a Danny Boyle film, and the only misfire he’s done has been ‘A Life Less Ordinary‘ – a rare feat for most directors. Given that he’s been on the scene since 1994, releasing ten feature-length motion pictures and a large array of televisions episodes and telefilms, it’s rather impressive.

With Boyle, there’s always something going on, so you have to keep your eyes peeled – and this doesn’t change with ‘Millions’. It’s not to say that this is ADD, action-filled fodder. It’s just that Boyle is a very stylistic director and he always makes every scene interesting in the way that he presents it; a story that could be mundane, is transformed with his hand.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t inconsistencies:

  • What happened in that split second between the moment when Damian is accosted by the bad guy and then having his bags full of money taken by the teacher? Did he already have the money stashed away in the donkey? And how could he escape with the damned donkey without anyone seeing him – let alone the villain? Is this an error, a mind-boggling contrivance, or poor story-telling?
  • What was up with all those people showing up in the middle of the night at Damian’s house, seeking charity? And why were they only lined up at their house, not at any of the neighbours’? One could easily assume that it’s because of the cash, except that no one is supposed to know about it. So what happened? And where did they go after the incident with the bad guy unraveled? Sadly, the film doesn’t provide even a hint.
  • What happened to all the money that Damian was burning at the end? Firstly, it’s pretty obvious that not all of it could have burned (especially since a train passed by and it should have snuffed out the fire), so did Damian just leave it there? And what about the train, anyway? How could it come out of nowhere? Nowhere! Seems to me that NO train could sneak up on anyone, what with the noise they make. Hmmmph…

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

As is usually the case with Boyle’s films, the cast is rather good. Both kids are entirely credible, as are both adults. But Alex Etel (as Damian) is particularly notable for being able to play innocence, wonderment and intelligence at the same time. He totally sells his character’s awe of saints, making it seem genuine, not frivolous.

There’s only one bit of casting that I would have done differently, and it’s in the choice of Jane Hogarth as Damian’s mom. While I have no issue whatsoever with her performance, this cameo lacked the presence that an Emma Thompson or Juliette Binoche would have given the part. That’s too bad, because it should have been unforgettable, magical. It wasn’t.

Still, despite this, some plot incoherence, and mild darkness, ‘Millions’ retains that touch of magic for most of its 90-minute runtime anyway. Between the gorgeous soundtrack by John Murphy, its themes, the saintly apparitions and Damian’s sense of awe, it remains a picture with a beautiful heart, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it grew to be a Christmas classic one day.

Date of viewing: December 19, 2013

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