Tonight’s 25 Days of Christmas film is a first time viewing for me, and boy did it turn me upside down. I’ve seen the majority of director Danny Boyle’s work, except for Millions. The film didn’t get a fair showing here in the US, coming out the same weekend as War of the Worlds (remember that?) and in the canon of his films it’s usually the one people haven’t seen. I decided to watch it and boy is it something to see this Christmas. I prefer Boyle’s dark comedies like Shallow Grave or a Life Less Ordinary (essentially a modern-day screwball comedy) but Millions is a heartwarming, charming, quirky film that discusses the nature of money, religion, and the human soul.
Damian (Alex Etal) is a little boy struggling to cope with his mother’s death. He obsessively studies the lives of the Catholic saints, in hopes that his mother is one of them. When a sack full of money is thrown off a train Damien believes it’s a sign from God. Coincidentally, the UK is set to convert over to the Euro, leaving the sack of pounds sterling useless in a few days (fictionally). As Damien’s older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) starts spending it, Damien tries to give it to the poor. Unfortunately, the dark side of humanity comes out when money is involved, and the robber who stole the money wants it back.
I’m Catholic-lite so for me this was the right amount of religion wrapped up in a beautiful story about loss, life, and what happens when people get a taste of riches. Damien tells the story himself so throughout its peppered with his views on the world, including the appearance of many Christian saints who give him advice on the world. He’s coping with his mother’s death, asking all the saints if his mom is one, and at the same time learning that not everyone (even saints) are good-hearted and devout. A scene where he gives a group of Mormon missionaries money, and they in turn spend it on luxury items shows how everyone can lose their head with a little money, even the religious right.
The film doesn’t assert any stance on religion, mainly showing the corrupting influence of wealth and consumerism. The fact that the film tells of a fictional conversion to the Euro, shows how everyone is united when it comes to money. We all need it, wish we had more of it, and would probably not do good with it. Damien wants to give it to the poor, but realizes that even the poor don’t have good intentions all the time. We all want more money, but in the end it’s not necessarily a good thing. We all want things for a reason, but there are reasons why you can’t always get what you want. By the end when the poor are literally barging into Damien’s house, his perception of the retelling coloring the moment, you’re forced to see that the poor will always be a problem no matter the amount of money, people will always want more. How appropriate that the film takes place on Christmas!
The acting in this is just phenomenal and makes this film charming, sweet, and just good to watch. Etal is fantastic as Damien. He’s cute sure, but he’s not a typical child actor who relies on crying or pouting to convey emotion. Him just standing in the makeup area where his mother used to work and looking around conveys an ocean of things without him even talking. James Nesbitt is also heartbreaking as the boys’ father. This is Etal’s film all the way but the chemistry between him, Nesbitt, and McGibbon makes the family seem genuine.
Millions does get a bit silly toward the end as the screenwriter was probably trying to figure out how to wrap things up. The robber wanting his money back kind of peters out, probably so the film doesn’t get too dark, and the ending’s a bit too preachy especially considering how it didn’t seek to preach when the Christian saints were showing up! Regardless, I’ll admit I shed a few tears when this movie was over (I’m not a crier unless a Disney movie is on!). The film tells a beautiful tale of growing up, overcoming loss, and understanding the pros and cons of money. It’s great for the whole family and Boyle gives it a dash of surrealism that I feel is missing in his later works. I miss the quirky, darkly comic Danny Boyle! I’m so happy I watched Millions this Christmas although it will have me looking at my money differently.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.