Monday, July 30, 2012

Millions (2005)

Danny Boyle has established himself as one of the most unique voices in Hollywood working today, with credits such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, The Beach, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire. Of the four films I have seen from him (28 Days Later, The Beach, 75% of Slumdog Millionaire, and the movie I will soon be discussing), he can manage to take any genre and, not only put his original stamp on it, but he can find a way to incorporate another element in it.

For example, when he made 28 Days Later, it started as a zombie film and turned into a political allegory and a showcase of evil military men. From what I heard, Sunshine is a film that started as a science-fiction piece and turned into a horror film. Between the two films I just mentioned, he decided to tackle another genre: the children’s film. Thus, we have the 2005 film, Millions.

The film centers around two boys, Anthony, played by Lewis McGibbon, and Damian, played by Alex Etel, who move to the suburbs in Windes with their recently widowed father. One day, after playing around in what Damian calls his hermitage, it is destroyed by, seemingly out of nowhere, a bag of money Damian believes is a gift from God. He shows it to his brother and they both have different views on what to do with it. Anthony wants to spend the money, while Damien wants to give it to the poor.

However, two obstacles come in their way. First of all, it is around the time where euros are being converted to pounds and the currency of the money in the bag is pounds. Second of all, it turns out that the money is from a heist and the robber is out looking for it. Duh duh duh!

As you may have guessed, this story has been done before in movies, such as Blank Check, but it’s never been done this creatively and this authentically. I love how there are two kids who get the money and the fact that they have differing personalities. They offset each other perfectly. Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce provides probably the most accurate representation of this situation. He, also, adds some wit and some surprising complexities. For example, one of the focal points of the movie is that the mother is dead. They find a way to make it humorous and serious and, at times, you don’t know which way it’s gonna go. Plus, you think that humor around someone’s dead mother would be tasteless, but they find a way to make it light-hearted.

The movie takes place around Christmastime, but it’s not a Christmas movie. Here in America, we, almost, feel obligated to turn everything into a Christmas movie if Christmas is merely in the movie. Here it’s just when the movie takes place. Not only is Christmas in the movie, but it’s a movie that discusses the possibility of miracles, which is a favorite of Christmas films. However, in this film, they don’t go for any of the cliched Christmas-type tug-at-your-heart-strings moments. Any emotional moment in the movie is natural and well-deserved.

I, also, appreciate the issues they try to tackle. Not only of the loss of a parent, but, also, of the parent moving on and finding love and, even, the greed that would imprison us all from a high amount of money. These issues have been tackled in previous films, but, at the same time, they do capture the sadness, confusion, happiness, anger, and frustration that kids would probably go through from these issues. Danny Boyle ties together these issues in an effective and tender moment near the end that I won’t dare ruin for you, but believe me when I say, it’s perfect.

The ending is very satisfying. I will not spoil the ending, but all I will say is that the film ends in a place other than England and that moment is one of the most heartwarming and perfect endings of a movie of this ilk that you can imagine. Also, the heist portion of the film works. It doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s executed very naturally and, at times, the heist part of the movie is tense.

The performances are very good. Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon are earnest as the two precocious, joyful, and intelligent children. I don’t know if they are this intelligent in reality, but props to them. James Nesbitt is very natural and, also, convincing as the father. Also, this movie is one of the most stylistic films I have ever seen. There are so many magnificent visual strokes here. It is a treat to look at, editing wise and cinematography wise. Not only are the visual transitions great, but also the camera work is so clean and beautiful.

However, as much as I talk positively about the film, I don’t love it. I have a few quibbles with it. First of all, I had trouble with the scenes of the saints. I guess they are there to show Damian’s imagination and to provide some religious undertones, but that’s the problem. Why put in religious undertones? Aside of the fact that I am not a deeply religious man, there’s really no point to them. You could’ve easily put in some quiet, imaginative moments or atmospheric scenes where the camera could be put to greater use, in place of those religious scenes.

Second of all, sometimes Damian was handled poorly. I wish Danny Boyle allowed Damian to have a little more emotion. Aside from that, at times, the character was grating. At times, he’s too much of a goody two-shoes, to the point where it feels phony. At times, it just feels like he’s the only person who’s supposed to have “values,” but unrealistically so.

Finally, one of my major issues was the British dialect. I have nothing against it and I could understand it, mostly, but the problem is that the accents are so thick and, at times, they speak a little too fast that I could comprehend what the characters were saying. However, flaws and all, this really is a special and unique children’s film. Will kids embrace it? I dunno. However, they should be given the option to watch levelheaded entertainment over mindless hollow rubbish. By the way, I’m curious to see what Danny Boyle will think of next? A film noir that turns out to be a documentary? An animated film that turns out to be a murder film? The sky’s the limit, Mr. Boyle!

RATING: Three stars out of four

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