Surprising Danny Boyle's MILLIONS Depends on Hope; a Delightful Film for Children and Adults.
Mar 11, 2005 (Updated Mar 25, 2005)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon. Danny Boyle's surprisingly sensitive direction. Cinematic story-telling devices. Charming fantasy.
Cons:Some may feel that the satire and melodrama interfere with the story of the children.
The Bottom Line: With MILLIONS, Director Danny Boyle shows the range of his abilities; in this case, a satirical fantasy on consumer societies, for young and old alike. Should be a great success.
As you watch MILLIONS, a comic fantasy, the surprising latest creation of dour-seeming Danny Boyle (A SHALLOW GRAVE, 1994; TRAINSPOTTING, 1996; 28 DAYS, 2002), consider what a through-the-looking-glass world he is presenting us all: A world in which little is truly quite what it appears. MILLIONS takes place in Northern England where the sun always shines, and Christmas comes in July. The Cunningham Family -- Widower Ron (James Nesbitt) and his two young sons, Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel) and Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) -- are moving from their old "Council House" row home [literally, a tenement] to a large U. S. style, two storey place in a new "housing estate" [what we would call "suburban development] on the outskirts of Manchester. Not easy to do, even today. Everything in the house is brand new, of course -- stove, fridge, washer-dryer, etc -- all delivered in sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes. It is the new British paradise, an extension of the American Dream. The pound is about to be converted to the Euro, a "fact" which is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon.
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[And if the enigmatic title refers to money, the sum shown us in the film is a paltry 200,000 pounds +.]
Only the boys resist the unreality and unaccountable deluge of expensive gadgets. They much more enjoy, as boys will, hauling the empty appliance cartons up the embankment next to the railroad track overlooking the brooding industrial city, and building a castle for themselves.
But the boys have obsessions and unreality's of their own.
Damian, the younger of the two (about eight) dearly misses his dead "mum," and he has internalized his family's Catholicism to the point that he has visions. Damian is a living saint, who cannot tell a lie, wishes to help others with their problems, and share with them all he has. He is the kind of boy who always answers questions in class, and if given a chance, will launch on a dissertation on some religious or historical subject.
By contrast, Anthony, his eleven year-old brother, is worldly, a walking compendium of advertising cliches, business statistics, and clever sales pitches. He can tell you all about compound interest and mortgage rates.
One day, when Damian is by himself in the box-castle, conversing with St. Clare (Catherine Pogson), the patron of TV, a large bag comes bounding off a passing train, and as out of the sky, lands in the castle. He is amazed, thinking perhaps it is a sign from his "mum" in Heaven, who he has become convinced must also be a saint. Brother Anthony, on the other hand, quickly tears open the bag, sees hundreds of thousands of pound notes, and immediately begins counting them, assessing their value.
Damian believes that they should report their find, but Anthony nixes that idea, reflecting that even if the money should be judged theirs, taxes would eat up 40 percent of it. Better to keep the money in their big box until they can smuggle it into their bedroom.
Which they soon accomplish. After all, it's Christmas time, July, and Dad is always at work.
And so the days pass, as they play with the cash, and think of what to do with it all. Damian takes part of his share and begins to buy meals for the destitute. Unfortunately, the destitute are seldom satisfied with what Damian gives them. They complain, bring chiselers into the group, and call attention to themselves.
Anthony invests a portion of his share in the money, buying real estate, and financial paper bearing a good interest rate.
Damian turns to the holy. Hoping it will bring about good, he stuffs with bills the mail box of a couple of visiting Mormon missionaries down the cul de sac. Disappointingly, the ministers promptly go out and buy themselves a lot of expensive Christmas presents, things they have been denying themselves.
Interspersed throughout the entire picture are episodes in which various saints or religious figures -- Joseph (Nasser Mamarzia), Peter (Alun Armstrong), Francis (Enzio Cillenti), Nicholas (Harry Kirkham), Ambrosia (Kolade Agboke), Gonzaga (Cornelius Murphy), etc -- weigh in on the action, each wearing a halo attached by a tiny wand. And whenever a station of the cross is passed toward the dread day when Britain is to convert its pounds to Euros (making the loot unspendable), Leslie Phillips, the beloved senior comic actor of "Carry on Gang" fame, appears dressed like a banker, in a sleigh with a gloriously cleaved Christmas bunny, to sing the praises of the future. And finally, a real banker, Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), having caught a whiff of money from the boys at a finances indoctrination session at the local school, ingratiates herself with Dad.
Dad fails to notice these activities, and as a matter of record, so do most of the other adults in the community. They are preoccupied, taking care of their material possessions. Because its Christmas time, the Community Policeman informs the new neighborhood association, the estate may soon expect to be burgled.
Little Damian thinks that he has already been robbed of the most valuable possession in his life.
But sure enough, one evening, just at Christmas, "the poor man," a darkly dressed robber (Christopher Fulford), turns up like Magwitch in Great Expectations, looking for something he has lost.
I think I've said enough.
MILLIONS is a delightful, almost magical fantasy.
Given Danny Boyle's past preoccupation's, the picture might have gone very dark indeed, but it is wonderfully gentle, a kind of sly but idealistic satire, such as Preston Sturges would make if he were alive and an Englishman today. When I chatted with Boyle briefly at the San Francisco sneak (urging him to visit The Edinburgh Castle, where Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting was given its first American public reading), he struck me a very nice, down to earth, middle class Englishman, who might be your carpenter or plumber. He certainly has constructed a charming picture here, with all his characteristic over-cranking, under-cranking and stop-action put in service of the fantasy. He told us that his new stylistic innovation was to borrow from an earlier experience with digital tape, to heighten the color palette of MILLIONS, to give it an unworldly brightness in daylight, and a luminosity in the night scenes.
In addition to Preston Sturges (THE GREAT MCGINTY, 1940; CHRISTMAS IN JULY, 1940; SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, 1941; THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK, 1947), and David Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946), there is just a bit of Frank Capra sentiment, and in a strange way, more than a little of Charles Laughton's only directorial film, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955).
Written by Frank Cotrell Boyce, filmed by Anthony Dod Mantle (DOGVILLE, 2003), with the music (drawing on stuff from The Clash) by John Murphy and the editing skills of Chris Gill, both Boyle veterans, MILLIONS is at its entrancing best when concentrating on the young boys. Boyle told us the older, Lewis Owen McGibbon, was a real actor, hitting his marks and trying out interpretations. But little Alex Nathan Etel was a natural, who just reacted as purely as the character he was playing. With his high forehead, fair skin, rosy English cheeks, snub nose and freckles, women will fall in love with his performance and want to steal him!
Boyle told us of a scene, where the boys were to be thinking about Christmas presents. He knew what he wanted, but he could not direct them, so he just gave them a department store catalogue to look at, and trained several cameras on them from different angles. Presently, they came to a page of bra ads. Little Alex (Damian) asked what they were for. Lewis hesitated and said they were to hold "milk sacks." How do you know? asked Alex. "Because I saw Mum feed you before she died," Lewis improvised. The expression on Damian's face is both darlingly funny and heartbreaking, underneath. And so it went, a priceless scene that Boyle could not have reshot, and would not have wanted to.
Some have objected to the presentation of Africans happily laboring in a land of plenty (for Ambrosio), but this after all is the naive vision of an eight year-old boy, drawn no doubt from Biblical illustrations. The sequence is entirely innocent.
The last few weeks have seen a number of good films for children, HER MAJESTY, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, etc. Examining daily the terrible World that America is creating, I am reminded of the speech by Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) near the end of Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. She speaks of the World being "hard on little things." And she prays, "Bless the little children in this cruel World . . . They abide. They endure." NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is one of the best films ever made on the innocence and corruption of childhood. Danny Boyle's MILLIONS (whatever that title means) is well on the sunnier side of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but it displays some of that masterpiece's magical qualities.
Few recommendations could be stronger.
Reviews of several Preston Sturges films mentioned above:
THE GREAT MCGINTY --
THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK --
SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS --
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