If you find yourself wondering where all the good films have gone, the answer is that they’re still being made but they’re being made in foreign countries. The bottom line anywhere but here isn’t profit, but all the other stuff – like having something important to say, artistic expression, uniqueness. It isn’t that Americans are stupider or greedier than everyone else. but that the five white guys in suits who now run Hollywood are.
Millions, the new film by the absurdly talented filmmaker Danny Boyle is the kind of film most parents would wish on their children, but the kind that will never be marketed to kids. It’s like the junk food they serve our kids in the cafeteria — a steady diet of junk trumps the healthy stuff. So it is left to brave parents to introduce their children to this kind of thoughtful portrayal of the human experience.
In Milions, two brothers move into a housing project in England on the eve of the fictitious exchange of British pounds for Euros (such an event is unlikely to happen in the immediate future), so only a few days remain in which people can spend or deposit pounds before they become useless.
The older brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) spends much of his time corrupting his younger brother Damien (Alexander Nathan Etel), teaching him how to think only about getting stuff. For instance, he teaches him to exploit their mother’s recent death to get candy from stores or sympathy from adults.
Damian, however, is that rare breed of human who wants to do the right thing and believes in being good — mostly because his mother taught him to be good, along with teaching him about religion. Damian believes he sees and can talk to saints. He studies them the way his school mates study soccer players. When he sees them, he recounts their names, birthdates and dates of death, and he asks them if they’ve seen his mother, whom, he believes, became a saint when she died.
Suddenly, a fat sack of cash that seems to fall out of the sky lands in the midst of his blessed, imaginary world. He believes it was dropped by God, his brother believes otherwise. In fact, there had been a rash of robberies, taking advantage of the government’s decision to burn the millions of pounds that have already been converted to Euros. It’s the largest robbery in the country’s history, and Anthony assumes that one of the bags got sent to Damian by mistake.
What happens next is what the film is ultimately about – the power of money to do good or bad, depending on how it’s used. Anthony, the pragmatic materialist, knows that the government would tax the hell out of the money if they gave it to their father to claim it as theirs, and believes it should be invested in property. He also uses some of the cash to buy friends at his school. Damien, on the other hand, thinks it should go to the poor but he doesn’t how to go about giving it away — it’s just a big, nebulous idea with no form. So he randomly hands it out to people he believes are poor people. This leads nowhere, and, worse, gets the boys in trouble.
The money is traced back to the boys – and soon the thief who should have gotten the bundle stalks the boys to retrieve what he thinks is his, and the father discovers what his boys have been sitting on.
The film is surprisingly moving toward the end and it will bring up a lot of hard core feelings for young children who are particularly sensitive about such subjects as the death of a parent. But despite the pain it might cause, the value of children pondering questions such as what money actually does for people is priceless.
Boyle has a rapid-fire camera that has served him well in his darkly comic films, such as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. Strangely enough, the style works well for Millions, giving small children something exciting to gaze at when the film might otherwise seem slow to them.
Boyle is a visual director mostly, taking apart the frame and filling it up like a found-objects collage, and, working here with screenwriter Frank Cotrell Boyce, he has achieved a sweetness and an exuberance for the first time. The film is made great by the face of eight year-old Alexander Nathan Etel as Damien – and what happens to that precious face as he realizes what this world is really about, what people are really about and how difficult it is to remain strong in spite of it. It’s the kind of riches money can’t buy and that’s what these boys really find.