directed by Danny Boyle
(Fox Searchlight, 2004)

In Danny Boyle's most recent film, Millions, young brothers who've recently lost their mother find a duffel bag stuffed with money by the railroad tracks next to their neighborhood.

If you've seen Boyle's Trainspotting, you may be forgiven for feeling a note of dread creep in: Combining children with money and the mean guys who want their loot back can lead to no good.

Yet Boyle, along with screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, have created a magical little film in Millions. Beyond the issue of the money and what the boys will do with it, Boyle and Boyce find what's really special in the struggle to grow up, to deal with loss and in the saving power of imagination.

Seven-year-old Damian (Alex Etel), his older brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) and their father Ronnie (James Nesbitt, Waking Ned Devine) have moved from their old house, with memories of their dead mum, Maureen, to a new subdivision. Although he never speaks of it, the loneliness of losing everything that's familiar weighs on Damian (and, as seen in one tender late-night scene, on Dad, too). He creates a sanctuary of empty moving boxes next to the railway tracks where he can be alone and, in his fertile imagination, talk to the saints whose lives and grisly deaths he finds endlessly fascinating.

As Damian chats with the clairvoyant St. Clare one day ("Have you ever met St. Maureen?" a worried Damian asks Clare, referring to his mother), a duffel bag, in a piece of nice product placement for Nike, plunges through his cardboard castle. It's stuffed with British pounds and it is, Damian believes, a gift from God -- people give things to him and his brother all the time once they learn their mother is dead, he reasons. Why can't God?

Luckily, there's enough to go around for both Damian and Anthony, since Damian wants to give it all away to the poor, while Anthony uses it to win friends at his new school.

Once the boys learn the truth -- that the money is stolen -- it creates a crisis of a different kind: to give it back to the government, to give it all away or to spend it like mad before the deadline when the UK turns to the Euro and the pounds sterling are worthless.

And once the robbery accomplice who was supposed to pick up the money learns who has it, a whole new level of urgency takes over.

But, despite that dark cloud, Boyle never loses sight of the heart of the movie. For him, and for us, it's Damian and Anthony, one boy who's struggling to do the right thing and the other who's struggling, in the face of loss, to find his heart and his faith again.

Neither Etel nor McGibbon has an extensive acting resume, and it matters not one bit. Boyle auditioned literally thousands to get the casting right, and it takes a couple of unusual boys to convincingly play innocence, hope and loss. By pinning their movie on these two young actors, Boyle and Boyce ensured that we get both the heartache and the gentle humor.

by Jen Kopf
3 June 2006

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