Saturday, November 05, 2005


There's a popular belief that family movies are sappy, clichéd and boring. Hackneyed stories. Mediocre acting. Predictable, sentimental, workmanlike productions. Better suited to The Hallmark Channel than the big screen.

Then comes Millions, which shatters many of these myths. Set in England, Millions is a refreshing family movie about seven-year-old Damien Cunningham (Alex Etel ) and his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), who inexplicably come across a large bagful of money that appears to have dropped from the sky. And the question is, of course, what are they going to do with it. Damien, a religious boy who is prone to visions from dead saints, wants to give it to the poor. He thinks it came from God. Everyone else has more worldly perspectives and agendas. A sense of urgency is driven by the impending conversion to the Euro, when all 200,000 odd pounds will become worthless.

A further emotional undercurrent is that the boys' mother recently passed away, causing a move to a new house and new neighborhood. Dad and sons deal with the loss in their own ways, but their grief is never far from the surface.

Danny Boyle is known for directing much darker films, like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. But in Millions he melds his penchant for creepiness with a fanciful whimsy reminiscent of Amelie. (I would have preferred a steadier hand at the stern, as the imaginative filmmaking of the first half of the movie succumbs to a more traditional style as the story progresses.) Nevertheless, the result is a family movie that feels rare and fresh, complete with rich cinematography and a provocative score.

Alex Etel is extraordinary as Damien—maybe the best child performance I have seen since Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider. But Boyle gets terrific performances out of everyone—including McGibbon as brother Anthony and James Nesbitt as their father. Nothing over the top. No caricatures.

Millions does have its share of moralizing, and Boyle makes clear that money can have a powerful and corrupting effect on people. (OK, nothing earth-shattering here.) But there are others, like Damien, who rise above the worldly temptations, and see clearly that money can be a tool for good or evil. Along the way, Damian gets visionary insight and assistance from some helpful, if not iconoclastic Catholic saints, including cigarette-smoking Clare of Assis, St. Peter and a slightly profane St. Francis. My favorite line from the movie, from one of the heavenly visitors: "The money makes it harder to see what's what."

Even though Millions is rated PG there are a few provocative moments that left me scratching my head. (It's almost as if the director didn't want to be accused of making a kids movie.) There are several ads featuring an old man with an amply endowed younger woman with plenty of cleavage. There's also a scene where Anthony introduces Damien to a women's underwear site on the Internet, with extreme close-ups and candid dialogue. Some might find this real to life, but it will certainly make other families uncomfortable.

It's a shame this movie didn't do better at the box office— well under $10 million. I suggest you pick up the DVD.


Post a Comment

<< Home