Money’s just a thing, and things change. One minute it’s there and you can cuddle up to it and the next minute it’s gone. Like a malteaser.
With Millions Danny Boyle finally lives up to the promise he showed over a decade ago with Shallow Grave. Then again, perhaps this shouldn’t be too great a surprise considering that Millions could easily be regarded as a family friendly re-working of said film; exchanging cynical avarice for spiritual uncertainty and supplanting the earlier film’s loathsome trio of yuppies with an endearing prepubescent duo, their beleaguered father and an affable charity worker. On paper it sounds almost too cloying for words. In practice, however, it proves to be a funny and often bittersweet slice of populist entertainment – even if it’s somewhat hampered by an overdone finale – and manages the rarest feat of all in this genre: scenes that are genuinely moving.
Millions, like Shallow Grave before it, poses the eternally fascinating question of just what would you do if you happened upon an inordinately large amount of money? Unlike Shallow Grave, with its sleazy roommate’s death by a heroin overdose, the discovery of the money is rather more innocently done: it quite literally falls from the sky. Or so seven year old Damien (Alex Etel) thinks. He’s recently moved house after the death of his mother, and whilst playing by the railway he’s somewhat bewildered when the cardboard edifice he’s painstakingly constructed is squashed by the sudden descent of a bag of money. Damien – self-conscious enough to know how his imagination can sometimes get the better of him (he’s regularly visited by a variety of Catholic saints) – quickly fetches his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) to confirm that the money is real. It is. In fact it totals a not too shabby £229,000 pounds.
Not particularly concerned with where the money came from and eager to hide it from their father (James Nesbitt) – most of it will be taken away by the taxman unless they keep it secret, Anthony assure his less financially-savvy brother – the pair have to figure out how they can spend their money in advance of Britain switching its currency over to the Euro. With one week to go each pursues a different line of thinking: Anthony uses the money to bribe his classmates and make himself top dog of the school, whilst Damian tries to figure do some good with money, which usually entails him asking ‘Are you poor?’ to anyone who passes into view. Of course, such a large sum of money must have originated from a tangible source (not the heavens, as Damian seemingly believes) and before long a rather sinister figure (Christopher Fulford) emerges, intent upon finding the loot.
Where Millions surpasses its competitors is in its unfeigned honesty and, for the most part, resistance of sentimentality. Damian and Alex may have been recently bereaved but that doesn’t prevent them from using their mother’s death as a means for getting what they want. After having extorted sweets from a shopkeeper Damian enquires ‘Is this completely honest?’, to which Anthony insouciantly responds ‘She’s completely dead isn’t she?’ When attractive charity-worker Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) appears on the scene the film is careful not to over-egg the growing relationship between her and the kids’ father, whilst subtly portraying the boys’ different reactions to the new arrival. Both Etel and McGibbon give excellent performances (the latter especially) making the more unlikely facets of their characters – Damian’s spiritual resolve, Anthony’s entrepreneurial skill – almost credible. Only a cringe-worthy encounter with the deceased mother badly misfires, but it’s not enough to taint an otherwise enchanting little film, which despite the innumerable trappings of Christianity ultimately espouses the view that to have faith in humanity is belief enough.
Apart from a few instances of edge-enhancement and one or two examples of aliasing, the image is almost entirely perfect. The image is presented anamorphically in the ratio of 1.85:1 and – the aforesaid caveats aside – excellent. The image is sharp and really captures the vibrancy of the film’s bright colour palette; indeed the picture is generally very pleasing to the eyes.
I was also surprised an impressed by the sound quality. Since Millions is a family film I didn’t expect that the audio would be anything more than passable (I naively assumed there would little in the way of sonically-demanding scenes) but it’s actually very good: making ample use of the surrounds and containing a pleasing amount of bass.
To be honest the extras are something of a disappointment. In ascending order of usefulness: a shameless bit advertising for the soundtrack (a thirty second waste of time), a fairly awful trailer, which seems to be unwittingly marketing the film to Christian fundamentalists, and a disappointing four minute cut of the film, which essentially just overlays some of the film’s soundtrack to a kaleidoscopically edited selection of key scenes.
Nest up are four behind-the-scenes featurettes, entitled ‘Spirit of the film’, ‘Millions’, ‘Saints’ and ‘Robbery’. Each runs for between two to three minutes and it therefore comes as little surprise that not a great deal of ground is covered over the course of their duration. Another irritation is that they’ve been rather badly edited: notably at the end of the first two featurettes where the person speaking (Lewis McGibbon and Danny Boyle, respectively) is cut mid-sentence. The audio commentary from Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce is a fairly prosaic affair: it starts out quite promisingly but both participants seem rather tired and listless by the end. Along the way we learn about the casting of the two lead actors and are given insights into the similarities and differences between Millions and Shallow Grave - Boyle explaining that the transition from a Conservative to a Labour government probably accounts for their tonal disparity. The best feature is undoubtedly the deleted scenes. There are ten in total and, clocking in at just over half an hour, they’re also quite substantial and explore an interesting sub-plot involving the uncertainty over Dorothy’s motives.
Millions is a refreshing example of crowd-pleasing cinema being done well: it’s smart and although it wears its heart on its sleeve it’s not afraid to deal its characters a cruel blow or create a genuinely menacing atmosphere when situation requires it. The disc’s A/V presentation should satisfy most and the extras, though wanting in substance, are a relatively interesting diversion for fans of the film.
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:11:52