Danny Boyle, director of 28 Days Later and Trainspotting, and Frank Cotrell Boyce, screenwriter of 24 Hour Party People, have pulled a Robert Rodriguez, turning from decidedly adult fare to produce superior family entertainment. Millions is, in fact, even better than the original Spy Kids, enjoyable for all ages rather than just as juvenile wish fulfillment.
This charming British film concerns the two sons, younger Damian (Alex Etel) and Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), of a widower named Ronnie (James Nesbitt). They’re dealing with the recent death of their mother in different ways. Anthony has developed a materialistic, almost mercenary bent and Damian has become fascinated by the lives of saints, memorizing the details of their lives in the same way most British kids would absorb stats about footballers (that’s soccer players to us Yanks). He occasionally has deep conversations various saints who appear to offer him sage advice. When he asks them about “St. Maureen”, his mother, they plead ignorance but, hey, eternity is a big place.
Dad’s way of dealing with grief is to move his family into a new home, hoping to cut off connections with a painful past. The house is, in fact, very new, part of a recently built development that is still sufficiently off the beaten track that, as Christmas approaches, the neighborhood policeman cheerfully informs them, “You will be burgled. Not all of you, but some of you.”
As they move in, Damian collects the various boxes and constructs his own personal fortress of solitude out by the railroad tracks. As he communes with Saint Clare, who’s smoking a cigarette and discussing television, his fort gets flattened by flying duffel bag full of approximately 229,000 pounds in cash. Again, for the Yanks, that would Pounds Sterling, the British currency, not a duffel bag weighing 115 tons.
When he tells Anthony, they agree not to tell anyone but have conflicting ideas about what do with it. The older brother wants to spend it or invest in real estate, something practical. Young Damian thinks the saints would want him to give the money to the poor.
Whatever they do, they have some problems. Great Britain is twelve days away from converting to the euro, at which time the cash will be worthless. Another problem is that it’s very hard for a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old to dispose of that much money without attracting a lot of attention.
Their last problem is that fact that the money was part of millions of pounds stolen off a train taking it to be incinerated as part of the currency changeover, and the robbers would like their money back. Unfortunately, Damian mistakes one of them for one of the poor people he wants to help.
The movie follows the two brothers as they pursue their different agenda. Anthony checks out property while Damian drops 1,000 pounds into a collection for African relief. The understandably startled charity workers call Ronnie, who doesn’t have any idea where his son got the money but he rather likes Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) the pretty, energetic currency exchange officer who informs him of the windfall.
Etel and McGibbon are two charming, unaffected young actors, which is very important for a film with such a strong fantasy element. When you have a seven-year-old speaking matter-of-factly with St. Peter, it wouldn’t do for him to be self-consciously cutesy. Nesbitt and Donovan are excellent in their roles as well.
The film employs computer special effects in a restrained manner perfectly suited to the film’s delicate balance of fantasy and reality. Also, the robbery sequence, told in flashback, is a remarkable inventive caper involving clever misdirection and the end of a Manchester Newcastle United football match.
All told, Millions perfectly fits the definition of true family film, providing intelligent storytelling for both adults and kids while containing nothing inappropriate for all but the youngest viewers. The PG rating comes mostly from the menace represented by the robbers and the fact the Ronnie and Dorothy don’t wait for the altar before heading for the bedroom.