If you’ve ever dreamed of finding a duffle bag containing a million dollars or called upon an imaginary being to lend a hand, then you’ll enjoy Millions. It’s a story about two little boys facing life after the death of their mother who find an extraordinary gift that sends their imagination to the ends of the world.
Not quite grasping that his mother is gone, seven -year-old Damian (Alex Etel) fills his world with flights of imagination. He knows all the saints, what each is noted for and the year he/she was around. He even has regular conversations with them. So he’s not too surprised when he’s playing in his cardboard fort near the train tracks and a bag of money falls on top of the fort. It must have come from Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the patron saint of families.
Damian is so excited he can’t wait to tell 9-year-old brother, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), who decides they shouldn’t inform their dad. While Damian is a softie who wants to give the money away to those less fortunate than his family, Anthony is prudent and wants to invest the money. At one point, he even tries to buy a condo, but ultimately realizes at some point in the deal an adult will have to show up.
When news gets out that a bag of recovered money from a robbery is missing, the boys realize it’s the bag they now have. Because Damian is such a believer in the good of mankind, even when he’s followed and threatened by the robber who stole the money in the first place, he’s unfazed. (Warning note: the robber may seem a tad frightening to younger children.)
Unaware that his sons have millions, dad Ronnie (James Nesbitt) continues to work hard. He’s proud when he can move the boys to a bigger house in a neighborhood where things like Christmas decorations are a big thing.
After Damian meets Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), a charity worker at his school, he slips a wad of cash into her collection barrel. When she comes to their home to sniff out the source of the money, Ronnie likes her quirky ways and spontaneous energy. Soon she’s a regular presence in the house.
Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People) came up with the idea for Millions, and the script eventually landed in the hands of director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting). Casting the boys was pivotal to the film’s believability, especially in light of Damian’s imaginative illusions. Etel and McGibbon, who make their film debuts here, do a splendid job of filling the roles. “We went into a process of what casting directors call ‘kissing frogs’,” said Boyle, “where you have to see thousands of kids before somebody emerges who you hope will be your prince.”
McGibbon had his own ideas about the value of money and what the boys could buy with it. “He had timing, knew what acting was and had crossed the barrier from total innocence to knowing what it was about. I thought that was a great attribute for that particular character because Anthony is someone who has one foot in childhood and the other foot in the modern world,” said Boyle.
Finding a boy to capture Damian’s innocence and naiveté, Boyle discovered, was more difficult. “None of the boys we saw of that age are truly actors yet,” he said. “I remember when he (Etel) walked into the room, even before he opened his mouth. I had to stop myself from thinking, ‘That’s him.’ But he was the one I wanted from the beginning, and I stuck with that.”
In a sweet and funny way, Millions strives to explore what money is really all about -- that it usually can’t buy the one thing we want most. Watching Damian and Anthony come to understand this important lesson is an enjoyable journey that warms the heart, and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s brilliant color scheme adds to the magic of the story.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated “PG”, for thematic elements, language, some peril and mild sensuality.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.