As Danny Boyle comes up with his latest, 127 Hours, the other day friends were having a vote on the best Boyle film. I said 28 Days Later. See, it redefined the whole zombie/undead genre, and it was the first zombie movie I really enjoyed, much before I came to Resident Evil. More names were swapped — Trainspotting, The Beach, Sunshine (Nobody mentioned Slumdog Millionaire). Then someone said, Millions, and everyone started nodding. And I was clueless. I hadn’t seen Millions until then.
Directed by Boyle between his two ambitious sci-fi films 28 Days Later and Sunshine, Millions (2004), is far less ambitious, like a hard candy that gets sweeter as you continue to suck it.
The film catches you unawares, and for this, despite Boyle’s visual inventiveness, you will have to thank the film’s casting director for finding Alex Etel to play the film’s lead, Damian. He is a nine-year-old who lives with his father and 11-year-old brother Anthony. Their mother is dead and they have changed house, moving to a place next to a railway track (Boyle’s obsession with the railways!). Damian is quite obsessed with the Christian saints, whom he sees in visions and talk to them, and builds himself a ‘hermitage’ out of cardboard boxes. Then one day, an airbag comes rolling from a running train and falls in front of him. Damian opens the bag, and it’s full of currency notes.
It’s interesting how the plot brings in so many different elements, and so smartly avoids falling into clichés. Money plays an important plot point, but it’s not the focus, neither are the saints who materialise out of thin air. It’s not even about greed and piety, or family — all these threads, and many more, including a stranger lurking in the corner ready to strike our young hero, play out together with such cohesion, you cannot think of the story in any other way.
Damian thinks the money is from God. So, following the advice from the saints, he decides to help the poor. But his brother has a different idea; he wants to invest the money. But they are too young to do any of these, and they cannot tell about the money to the adults. What makes the situation more complicated is that euro is being introduced, and in a week’s time, England may just forego pound sterling and introduce euro. If it happens, the entire amount would be obsolete. But where did the money come from, who does it belong to?
You may view Millions as a kid’s movie, and in a sense, it is. But it plays better for the adults, especially since Boyle keeps the films grounded, despite it’s fantastical elements, and never resorts to melodrama and moralising. An absolute treat.
On the side note: While the film was being made, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce adapted the screenplay into a novel which eventually was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal.