March 25, 2005


Directed by Danny Boyle Starring Alex Etel and James Nesbitt

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Even though this digitally-Botoxed family fare may seem like a drastic change of pace for Danny Boyle, Millions capitalizes on a premise in which the director has previously invested. Just like in Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, a duffle-bagful of money here is the root of all evil and does funny things to some people - as per The O'Jays. The most significant deviation here stems from the film's virtuous seven-year-old protagonist Damian (Alex Etel), who is the polar opposite of those callous, amoral sleazebags for which Ewan McGregor first earned attention.

Newly motherless Damian finds solace inside his corrugated cardboard rocket, as well as through imaginary friendships with various saints - such as the selflessly charitable Clare, Francis, Joseph, Nicholas and Peter - who provide him with ethical guidance. Uncertain whether the bag of pounds sterling fallen from the sky is one of his hallucinations, Damian informs his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) about it. Like a junior equivalent of those McGregor characters, the calculating Anthony quickly commissions a schoolyard gang and indulges in wretched consumerist excess. Damian ventures out to follow in the footsteps of his sanctified mentors by feeding the hungry and helping the poor. But with a scary stranger rummaging around for his plunder and only a few days remaining before England's changeover to the euro currency, the brothers' secret threatens to dissolve.

The film is very similar to Shallow Grave in its depiction of how money motivates heinous greed, induces paranoia and threatens relationships. For both films, Boyle borrows the shadow play and stairs/attic motifs from Hitchcock. Grave remained convincing even when its increasingly unstable characters began violently stashing away corpses. But Millions withdraws too far from reality due to the fairytale tendencies and logistical holes in Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay. Even if they can suspend their disbelief in Damian's visions and imagination, skeptics may still find it difficult to buy scenarios like a mock rocket actually taking flight or Damian bestowing his generosity mostly on suburbanites. Where is the working-class underbelly that populates those Mike Leigh and Ken Loach films?

Millions is both cautionary and entertaining, but it may ultimately not be for kids. Boyle expertly cashes in on the story's thriller elements, but those are likely too frightening for youngsters. And the preachy moral stance might not pay off for adults, even if they find the film otherwise enjoyable.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.