25 Days of Christmas: ‘Millions’ is a sweet look at childhood loss

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick takes on reviews of television Christmas specials and Kate takes on Christmas movies. Today is day 16.

Millions (2004)

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Directed by Danny Boyle

What’s it about?

7-year-old Damian Cunningham is still processing the loss of his mother his family’s move to the suburbs when a bag of money falls out of the sky. Damian wants to give it to people in need, though his older brother has other ideas, but the man who comes looking for it has a far more sinister plan.

Review

At first glance, one might not associate Millions with its director, Danny Boyle. It’s a sweet family film worlds apart from some of his other work (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours). Upon closer inspection, however, it is the directorial flair and personal touches he brings that make Millions as successful as it is. Damian’s flights of fancy, as he converses with dead saints and religious figures, are whimsical while remaining absolutely grounded. Several truly frightening moments also benefit from Boyle’s aptitude for horror, but more than anything, the characters are well-defined and absolutely authentic.

The film rests upon the back of Alex Etel, who is great as Damian. He is utterly watchable and his progression through the film is apparent. The character is also very well written and written to- Frank Cottrell Boyce never talks down to him and makes Damian smart and industrious without ever seeming more than his young age. Damian’s brother Anthony is also ably played by Lewis Owen McGibbon. McGibbon layers in enough pain to Anthony’s edge and “worldliness” to give his tough guy act the right opacity- at certain times it holds up, but at others, the audience sees right through it. The adults give strong performances as well, but the most striking moments involve the kids.

From the glow of candy wrappers reflected over Damian’s face to his slow trudge up a hill with his wooden donkey, Boyle creates beautiful visuals throughout the film, using color as a guide to Damian’s journey. From the light greens and browns of his early scenes by the train tracks to the whites and dark blues of his attic to the warm orange of a late-film fire, there are clues everywhere to his state of mind. Boyle also transitions seamlessly in tone, switching from realism to escapism at the drop of a hat. This story is not only about Damian, but is told through his point of view, the perspective of a child who has difficulty separating the real world from his imagination.

Perhaps the single best descriptor of this film is, “sweet,” or perhaps “whimsical,” terms which may scare some viewers off. Those concerned need not fear, as there are dramatic stakes as well as an overall tinge of sadness that keep the movie from venturing into the sugary-sweet realm of many family films, particularly set around Christmas. The heist element helps in this as well, as well as enough successful comedy to keep things moving over the movie’s tight, <100 min runtime. Nothing in Millions hasn’t been said before, and said well, but Boyle’s direction and several performances make the familiar revelations engaging and worth spending a bit of time on.

How Christmassy is it?

With scenes of Christmas shopping and a pageant figuring prominently, along with its religious elements, the season is strongly felt. On the Christmas movie scale (1=Brazil, 5=A Christmas Story), this gets a 4.

You May Like It If…

You like realistic looks at kids or Danny Boyle.

Final thoughts:

Millions is a thoughtful, entertaining look at childhood loss that fans of Danny Boyle should seek out.

Kate Kulzick

2 Comments
  1. […] SoundonSight [Kate Kulzick] […]

  2. Steve Kimes says

    Millions is my favorite Danny Boyle and one of my favorite films of all. It is a wonderfully imaginative film about a boy who is trying to be a saint. I’m so glad you reviewed it, and I hope others will take a look at it as well.

    While it is a movie about kids, I don’t know that it’s really a movie for kids. It is complex and harsh, despite it’s fairy-tale plot, somewhat like Slumdog Millionaire. There’s a lot more to it than most people would expect.

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