No zombies, dismemberments, or junkies swimming through sewage. Can this really be a Danny Boyle film? Moviegoers might double-check their ticket stubs as Millions opens on two boys racing through a sun-dappled field of butter-colored flowers, but all doubt is erased when the boys reach a construction site and imagine new houses planking themselves together, as if architecture bloomed like flowers in time-lapse films. Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) can do whimsy without abandoning his visually audacious style, but his need for a heist-driven conclusion grinds Millions to a stop just shy of greatness.
Damian (Alex Etel) is the younger of the two boys, a tenderhearted, not-of-this-world soul. When asked to name his heroes, he bypasses the usual Manchester United players and announces he can’t decide between St. Catherine and St. Agatha. His affinity for the saints goes deeper than hero worship—he’s actually met most of them. They come and visit him in his cardboard playhouse, and advise him on matters theological—nothing complex, just the kernel of good deeds at the dogma-less heart of Christianity. So when a gym bag full of pound notes comes careening from the sky, Damien immediately sees an opportunity for real Christian charity. But he’s got to go against his more avaricious older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), who wants to spend the whole lot before Scotland changes over to the euro in a few weeks and the paper money becomes worthless. Meanwhile, there’s a suspicious man sniffing around, smiling wolfishly at Damian and asking if he’s seen a gym bag.
Millions works best as a semisatirical parable about the meaning of wealth, as played out in the brothers’ conflicting wishes. While Anthony seeks to puff up his stature at school by buying trinkets and greasing palms, Damian stuffs needy people’s mailboxes with money at night and buys crates full of pigeons just to set them free. The Catholic metaphor is clear—the changeover to the euro represents the Day of Reckoning, after which all earthly money will be useless. Will the boys inherit their fortune here or in heaven?
Unfortunately, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay clutters up this elegant metaphor with some needless subplots about where the money came from, the father’s new girlfriend, the mysterious man in hot pursuit, and the comings and goings of the adults in Damian’s life. If only Millions had stuck to the clever purity of its childlike vision. It could have been tender in all senses, not just the monetary one.