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Millionsis a movie about kids that is so skillfully observant and so freshly imaginative that adults will find it charming and wise as kids will likely find it to be thoroughly engrossing. Neither writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Code 46, The Claim) nor director Danny Boyle (The Beach, Trainspotting) has done children’s films before, which may explain the adult and non-condescending tone they sustain in Millions.
All of the elements of classic fairy tales are present–magic, loss, a bogey man–and are combined with solid characterizations that provide a firm foundation for the flights of fantasy. At the center is Damian (Alex Etel), a smart and articulate, yet vulnerable, seven-year-old with more freckles than Mickey Rooney ever dreamed of. He has a rich fantasy life, peopled especially with the saints of his Catholic upbringing. He knows the years they were born and died, not to speak of the grisly manner in which many lost their lives. They appear to him from time to time like guardian angels, imparting advice and guidance.
Damian’s nine-year-old brother, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), is more worldly-wise and practical, but not beyond some rich fantasies of his own, more grounded in the material world than Damian’s spiritual one. Their mother died, a source of unresolved sadness for both, but they are not beyond playing the situation (amusingly) for the sympathetic response that motherless children seem to so powerfully evoke.
The premise of the tale is that a satchel of cash miraculously drops out of the sky into Damian’s playhouse. The currency is British pounds which, in the storyline, will shortly be worthless as Britain converts to the Euro–an outcome that seems quite distant in the real world, but no matter. Damian’s first instinct is to report the find, but Anthony tells him they can’t tell anyone about this–think of the taxes! Damian, influenced by his saintly friends, wants to give some of the money to the poor, but that turns out to be more difficult than he imagined.
The various reactions of the two boys to their fortune form the heart of the plot, but are more important in that they are revealing of character. The fibs they must tell to hide their new-found resources bounce back at them in unexpected and funny ways. All the while, both Boyle and Boyce astutely capture the dynamics of the relationship between brothers.
The film is rich in small incidents. When the boys and their dad (James Nesbitt) move into a new, larger house, Damian can’t sleep: "I don’t like having my own room!" he says to his dad, climbing into bed with him.Anthony decides they should invest in real estate and talks to the broker like a mogul when inspecting a flat for sale. And both boys have a sweetly innocent look at women in undergarments on the Internet.
Underneath all runs the theme of constant changes in life–what growing up is all about, after all. The loss of a parent, a move to a new home, a new school, a new lady in dad’s life, the loss of innocence–all are part of the texture of this rich, rewarding, and deliciously entertaining film.