What would you do if you stumbled upon a million dollars, especially if you knew that the dollar was going to be replaced by another form of currency in less than a week? Would you keep the money? Would you spend it? Would you give it away? Such is the dilemma portrayed in Millions, a story about two young boys from Liverpool who stumble upon a suitcase full of money, just as England is about to replace the British pound with the euro. Although the concept of an unexpected windfall is nothing new, the approach most definitely is. Heartwarming and happy, the exact antithesis of the adult fare of Danny Boyle’s previous work, Millions is a pleasant surprise. It depicts a child’s fantasy full of magic, miracles, and saints, while embracing an innocent and enthusiastic view of the world. As one of the year’s most lovable and family friendly films, Millions is a diamond in the rough.
Following the loss of their mother, 9-year old Anthony and his 7-year old brother Damian, are forced to deal with brand new surroundings. Their father, Ronnie, has recently moved them to a newly built suburb outside Liverpool where the boys must adjust to a new neighborhood and a new school and make new friends. The change is not easy, particularly for Damian, who becomes the subject of ridicule with his outspoken interest in saints. Missing his mother and the comforts of their old neighborhood, Damian builds a cardboard fort between their new house and a nearby rail station. There, he finds comfort and peace. And there, he is visited by saints, among them Clare of Assisi, the patron saint of television. He asks if she’s seen his mother, Saint Maureen, but no such luck. Then one day, an unexpected delivery comes crashing down. A bagful of money – £265,000 worth to be exact – falls right out of the sky right into Damian’s lap. With no one around to claim it, Damian takes it home, convinced it was a miracle.
Hiding the bag under his bed, Damian tells his older brother Anthony about his discovery and the two are ecstatic, but they vow to keep it a secret from their father. Complications arise as the boys have different intentions with the money: while Anthony wishes to invest the money practically in real estate or currency speculation, Damian would prefer to give it all to charity. The only problem is the money is not theirs. It was part of a train robbery that went south. Upon this realization, Anthony tries to tell his brother the truth, but not before Damian drops 10,000 pounds into a charity basket at school, inviting all kinds of suspicion, not to mention a visit from one of the train robbers. With little recourse, the boys tell their father about the money and together, they devise a plan to dispose of it, helping them realize something far more valuable than the money itself.
Danny Boyle’s previous films – Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave, and even The Beach – are defined by their profoundly pessimistic world-view, which makes Millions all the more curious. Millions is a family film – no blood, no walking dead, and no apocalyptic future. It’s a magical tale about two young boys who stumble upon a bag full of money and must decide what to do with it. Without question, there is a little greed and graft, but it’s all eclipsed by the good nature of the boys. Most importantly, this is fiction and fanciful. And it’s further proof of Boyle’s talent as an artist, an artist willing to take the right risks for the right story.
Unlike his previous works, Millions is a candy-coloured dream. Making ample use of sky blues and emerald greens, the canvas is overwhelmingly upbeat and pleasant. Even the clothing is bright and cheery. Much of this can be attributed to Anthony Dod Mantle, Boyle’s cinematographer from 28 Days Later, who used high definition video in a similar fashion, but in a way that is more open to light. In particular, the good characters always seem to have the right light and those that are not good are cast in shadows. There’s also a vibrant undercurrent, with bold sound and editing that heightens the experience. It enlivens the train’s vibrations, accelerates the robbery to show play-by-play precision, and allows the boys to imagine their new home from chalk lines to final product in a fortified frenzy. Stylistically, this is nothing new for Boyle, but because of the genre change, it’s much more noticeable and much more effective – a perfect complement to the film’s whimsical voice.
Frank Cottrell Bryce’s script works on several levels, too, exploring the effect of money on children and adults, the struggle of a single father to raise two boys, the innocence and benevolence of a child, and the importance of myth and faith. All of these perspectives, real and surreal, are interwoven, observed and told from a child’s point of view. And instead of being preachy or presumptuous, the characters are endowed with just the right intelligence, curiosity, and common sense to keep them out of harm’s way. Cutting right to the heart of the film’s appeal are the performances by the two brothers, portrayed by Lewis McGibbon and Alex Etel. These two are so angelic and so likable, not because of any false pretenses, but because the writing and their performances show intelligence and honesty. Although many might argue that the film loses its sense of reality, that it’s all too perfect or improbable, they would be missing the point. The story is pure fantasy: it inspires both adult and children’s imaginations in a world where miracles can come true.
T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." It’s an appropriate anecdote for Danny Boyle, who breaks away from hard-hitting content to tackle children’s fantasy. And Millions is by far his most inspired work to date. With vibrant color, ingenious child-centric writing by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and two adorable performances by McGibbon and Etel, Millions stands out as an extraordinary and visual delight. And it just goes to show, that in a world full of hope, goodwill, and inspiration, a miracle is never too far away.