What would you do if 265,000 British pounds fell out of the sky and landed in your cardboard fort? That is the question that faces seven-year-old Damian Cunningham (Alex Etel) and his nine-year-old brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), and their answers could not be any different. In a fast-paced and visually intoxicating story, Danny Boyle brings a childlike innocence to the big screen to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Danny Boyle would seem like the last candidate to direct a coming of age family film when looking at his works, including Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later. He usually displays a certain rawness and grittiness in his films, which makes Millions seem even more whimsical and, oddly enough, authentic. Boyle keeps the conventions of his directing career in Millions, using vibrant colors and creative cinematography (the new Cunningham home getting playfully created before the audience’s eyes). These colors and cinematography allow an entrance for anyone to get involved in the story and stay engaged.
The true power of the film lies in the excellent screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and the way it is so naturally executed by the two child stars. With the British government converting the national currency from pounds to the euro, the boys have a limited amount of time to decide what to do with their money. The plans then become even more challenging when Damian and Anthony discover that the money was stolen. Alex Etel gives one of the better child performances in recent memory as a Robin Hood-esque kind of character, while his older, realistic brother better understands the practicality of their newfound fortune (encouraging him to convert the money to the dollar then later the euro after the value decreases).
One interesting characteristic of Damian is that he knows all about saints, and Boyle uses this characteristic as a glimpse into the bigger themes of the movie. One interesting idea is that Boyle presents these saints as approachable, genuine people as opposed to some far away deity figures. The lessons they teach Damian are more morally universal as opposed to religion-specific (a different retelling of one of Jesus’s miracles by St. Peter). The only character able to see and communicate with the saints is Damian; so maybe a bit of childlike faith can go a long way. Furthermore, Damian reminds the audience, young and old, that by giving away his portion of the money to people who need it (a clean water initiative organization, treating a homeless group to pizza) that basic acts of kindness can impact and transform the world into a better place.
Unfortunately, Millions is one of Danny Boyle’s lesser-known works. The lighter subject matter allows audiences of all ages to enjoy this gratifying adventure tale. A great idea and good cast deliver a heartwarming story as seen through the subjective eyes of a child looking to make a difference.