‘Millions’ gambles on audience’s sophistication

Jon Dieringer

Lewis McGibbon and Alex Etel star in Millions, which unlike director Danny Boyle’s previous films

Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, is refreshingly devoid of exposed penises and crazed zombies.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Danny Boyle is an unlikely director for a film that could easily turn into a schmaltzy melodrama on the virtues of doing good.

Before the dark, adult Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, Boyle made Shallow Grave, a Hitchcockian thriller about a cynical group of Edinburgh flatmates who stumble upon a load of dirty money and set out to spend it in the most decadent ways.

Because Boyle’s film was criticized for lacking humanity, Millions might seem like an apology for his earlier work.The fundamental set-up is identical, but here, it is the young boy of a recently deceased mother who comes across the titular cash while fantasizing about talking to saints in a cardboard-box hideout by train tracks.

Damien (Alexander Nathan Etel) tells his brother, Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon), about his good fortune and is advised to keep mum. Regardless, Damien hopes the money can perform miracles for the poor, and Anthony soon discovers the social possibilities of throwing money around on the playground; while Damien ponders Catholic dogma, Anthony ponders Catholic schoolgirls.

Though the story generally unravels in a predictable fashion thereafter — the boys fall out with each other, try to hide the money from their father, etc. — it’s the narrative embellishments that make the movie stand out. The film is colored by Damien’s charmingly-learned narration and frequent conversations with real and imagined saints that recall Calvinism as much as Calvin and Hobbes.

In this way, the film plays to the spirit of children without condescending to it. Many films that could conceivably be aimed toward a family-friendly crowd operate on an idealized anticipation of its audience’s naiveté; dialogue never rises above the level of that of a Bazooka Joe comic book, and children are put in dangerous situations, but not too dangerous.

In Millions, both the young and old characters must make mature, difficult moral decisions. When he finds out the money did not, in fact, fall from the sky, Damien is heartbroken to realize that God apparently hadn’t chosen him to be a middleman to his miracles. His problem then becomes how to get rid of it: Does he give it to the people who want to take it from him, or pass it on to his father? And is there a difference between them?

The saving virtue of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script is that its principal characters rise above their purpose of fulfilling different moral standpoints; they essentially represent ideas while still coming across as human beings.

Boyle and Boyce are wise enough not to force an interpretation of the film’s moral on audiences, but regardless of one’s view of the message, Millions is an entertaining film for all ages.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Jon Dieringer at [email protected].