When the trains whoosh by in Danny Boyle's exhilarating children's story, Millions, the 7-year-old hero's elaborate cardboard shack shakes, rattles and rolls. Damian (Alex Etel) hunches inside his makeshift hideaway, the railcars rocketing past a few feet away, his face pop-eyed with adrenalized joy.
Damian, along with his older brother, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon), 9, doesn't have much to be happy about. Their mother has recently died, and her absence is still raw and palpable.
But there are good things happening, too. Dad (James Nesbitt) has moved to a spacious, spanking-new suburban-style house. And, oh yeah: a duffel bag loaded with British pounds sterling - £229,320, to be exact - has fallen from the sky, flattening Damian's homemade hut. The bag of money (a recurring motif in the Boyle canon; see Shallow Grave, see Trainspotting) comes with a catch, though. The Britain of Boyle's vibrant fantasy is about to convert to the euro, and all the old money will soon be rendered valueless.
What to do? Whatever to do, do it quick!
A fantasy that owes a lot, visually, to the zooming cinematic style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie, Boyle's movie is about miracles and mayhem, about coping with grief and letting the pain turn into something positive. It is also a film that, without sugarcoating or pandering, brilliantly gets inside the mind and imagination of a child. Millions sees the world - and shows the world - from a vantage about four feet off the ground, in a pop palette of primary colors.
While older sib Anthony is a pragmatist, Damian is a dreamer. He's convinced the cache of cash was sent to him from heaven. He's a devout Catholic, schooled in the lives of the saints. In fact, Damian converses with various holy figures. Saint Peter and Saint Francis drop by to discuss matters, and Saint Clare - the patron saint of television, we're told - is smoking reefer in Damian's hobo hut when he first encounters her.
Millions is set at Christmas time and has a bit of the yuletide classics like It's a Wonderful Life about it - only this is the pip-squeak version, without Jimmy Stewart's rabbity angst. The story also comes complete with a menacing, mysterious bad guy (Christopher Fulford) and one of the most inspired deployments of a Clash song ("Hitsville UK") ever to make it to a soundtrack.
If the epilogue doesn't quite work (and it doesn't), Millions still leaves you feeling rich - and richly satisfied.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
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*** 1/2 (out of four stars)
Produced by Andrew Hauptman, Graham Broadbent and Damian Jones, directed by Danny Boyle, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, music by John Murphy, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Damian. . . Alex Etel
Anthony. . . Lewis McGibbon
Ronnie. . . James Nesbitt
Dorothy. . . Daisy Donovan
The Man. . . Christopher Fulford
Parent's guide: PG (mild profanity, adult themes)