Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Movie Review: Millions

This originally ran at Spero News which now seems to have gone off the interwebs. I am rerunning it here so we've got it on hand ... and because it is one of my favorite movies.

“Millions” is a simple movie about a child’s innocent faith. Yet it has unexpected layers of depth thanks to director Danny Boyle’s insightful, sophisticated approach. The result is a magical movie that appeals to all ages.

“Millions” is about a small boy, Damien, whose mother has recently died and who sees saints regularly, never failing to ask if they have seen his mother, “Saint Maureen,” in Heaven. One day, while in his hideaway near the train tracks, a huge bag stuffed with money falls out of the sky. Damien sees this as a gift from God that should be used to help the poor. Charmingly, when his older brother, Anthony, sees the money and reacts with delight, Damien says, “Oh, so you see it too then?”

How to handle the money becomes the main plot of the movie. Anthony counsels that they must not tell their father because of taxes. He spends generously to become one of the cool kids in his new school while planning real estate deals for financial security. The scene where he and his sunglassed “posse” stride into the school is destined to become a classic. Damien, on the other hand, is determined to find poor people to shower with largesse. He takes people on the street to Pizza Hut for a feast. Three Mormon neighbors find their mailbox stuffed with bills after Damien finds that they have no dishwasher. There is never any sense that Damien is trying to buy his way into Heaven. He merely is doing what God would want as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Ultimately their father finds out and the source of the money is revealed but none of this is handled in a predictable fashion. As a side note, I will add that Great Britain does not use the Euro so the currency conversion deadline in the movie, though thoroughly effective, is merely a plot device.

It is clear that scriptwriter, Frank Cottrell Boyce, understands the fascination of saints as distinct individuals each with their vices and virtues while director, Danny Boyle, shows it to perfection. The many saints that Damien encounters are thoroughly human without losing their saintliness. Clare of Assisi, smokes a cigarette and describes Heaven by saying, “It’s bloody infinite up there, boy.” What perhaps is lost on the American audience is that “bloody” is a word that earns much more than a PG rating in Great Britain. Saint Peter is a salty fisherman who, as patron saint of locks and keys, can’t resist picking up stray keys and analyzing them before telling the story of how he thought that he fooled Jesus by saying that a miracle had happened.

In the hands of a lesser director, this would be the ultimate, corny family movie but nothing could be farther from the truth. Director Danny Boyle uses film angles, sound, and editing to bring an edginess that is unique to anything I have ever seen in a movie where so much of the story depends on the believable innocence of children. His ability to change styles to suit the mood is showcased without ever intruding on the story itself. A house is constructed before our eyes in whimsical sequences that put me in mind of Tim Burton. The reconstruction of a train robbery suddenly whisks viewers into a bona fide action movie, without ever endangering the PG rating. I was especially fascinated by his use of sound cues such as the supernatural sounding hiss that accompanied the villain whenever he would appear, reminding us that there was a larger element of evil to his character.

“Millions” is so imbued with Christian faith and values that if it were not made by a director of Danny Boyle’s talent and reputation it would be condemned to church youth group viewings forever. Boyle is known for showing the human condition against darker tales of drugs (“Trainspotting”) or virus-induced zombies (“28 Days Later”). His reputation and the fact that “Millions” is an indie (independent movie) are carrying this message into unexpected areas. Locally, a popular radio station’s director praised “Millions” as “must see” on their most popular morning show. Based on that recommendation, two different couples of my acquaintance, who normally would never stoop to seeing a “family movie,” can’t wait to see it. A younger, single, male co-worker told me, “You’ve got to see this movie,” while marveling at Boyle’s versatility. If I had described this movie without the “indie, Danny Boyle” connection this person would have smiled politely and put it out of his mind as he has done with other art house favorites of ours.

1 comment:

  1. I was actually telling a friend of mine about this movie the other day! I remember once we finally found it after searching for a while (my sister had liked it, but forgotten the name, so I spent a while looking with no information more than "little kid talks to saints"), Hannah and I watched it *Millions* of times.