Film Reviews


By • Apr 8th, 2005 •

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Fox Searchlight and Pathe Features present in association with U.K. Film Council and BBC Films a Mission Pictures production
MPAA rating: PG-13 / Running time — 97 minutes

QUOTE: A charming miracle.

One of my favorite saints is Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi* (1566 to1607).

In Psychopathia Sexualis, Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing called Mary Magdalene “a heroine of flagellation.”

In Danny Boyle’s magical film MILLIONS, written by Franck Cottrell Boyce,7-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) and his 9-year-old brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), move to a nice row house in the suburbs in northern England with their dad Ronnie (James Nesbitt) after their mom dies. Anthony is handling the loss of his mother well but Damian misses her. As a student at All Saint’s School, Damian knows a lot about his favorite saints. When he meets them, he is thrilled! The saints visit him and comment on their life as well as counseling him.

Oh, there are such wonderful moments here! Saint Peter (died in 67 A.D.) talks to Damian in his bedroom, explaining how he “hoodwinked” Jesus in believing he performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. And what really happened that day? Saint Peter tells us and it makes wonderful, funny, absurd sense.

When Damian, playing St. Joseph in a school nativity play, suddenly leaves, the real St. Joseph takes his place! And while I am often visited by Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 to 1380), the “Patron Saint of Anorexics” according to Rudolph Bell, Damian is visited by the “Patron Saint of TV”: Saint Clare of Assisi (1194 to 1253). She visits him in his multi-roomed cardboard box. She is smoking a cigarette.

Damian has constructed his “house” next to the train tracks so that the vibration offers him an ecstatic ride. When a huge bag of money falls right out of the sky and crashes into his shelter, he logically believes it is a gift from God. Damian starts giving away the money, but since he is only 7 years old, he needs his brother’s help. Because Anthony is the realist of the family, he wants to invest in real estate. If they tell their father, the British government will take 40% of it in taxes. They count the money. They have just a few days to give away, spend, or convert 265,000 pounds into euros. (Never mind the UK has rejected the euro.) Damian wants to give the money to the poor. He starts stuffing money into the mailbox of his neighbors, sincere Mormon missionaries. He starts handing out money to every kid at school and to anyone who will admit being poor.

Soon the boys find out that a large amount of money, destined to be destroyed by the government, was stolen. Bags of it were thrown off a train. One thief (Christopher Fulford) is looking for his sack of money. When Damian secretly gives a thousand pounds to a classroom charity drive for a well in Africa, his father is called to school. Now Ronnie, and his new friend Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), the charity’s spokesperson, learn about the money. Damian is unhappy that they want to spend the money instead of giving it away to the poor.

MILLIONS is a simple joy and Boyle instills it with surreal charm purposeful and meaningful to the fairy tale quality of the story. Etel is precious in his uncanny ability not to look like he is acting. And thankfully Boyle does not give him one cute moment or sensitive close-up. The richness of MILLLIONS lies not in its faithfulness to reality, but in the celebration of child-like awe. And, yes, it was highly emotional.

Why not have saints as imaginary friends?

Boyle’s previous work belies how effective MILLIONS is in giving a child’s view of the magic of life in a bright, fast-paced environment unbridled by conventional logic. Boyle delivers Damian’s simplicity and goodness in an endearing way.

By the way, the great ascetic Blessed Henry Suso (1295 to 1360) will be joining me at a performance of The Nevada Ballet’s “Joplin!” Saturday night. We will not eat, drink, or talk all day. We have seats, but will be standing in the back of the theater.

Damian: Alex Etel
Anthony: Lewis McGibbon
Ronnie: James Nesbitt
Dorothy: Daisy Donovan
Man: Christopher Fulford

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Producer: Andrew Hauptman
Graham Broadbent, Damian Jones
Executive producers: Francois Ivernel, Cameron McCracken, Duncan Reid, David M. Thompson
Director of photography: Anthony Dop Mantle
Production designer: Mark Tildesley
Costumes: Susannah Buxton
Music: John Murphy
Editor: Chris Gill

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