This is a movie about angels and devils, possessions and death, believers and nonbelievers, and serendipity. It's a kids' movie, really, but has enough of a symbolic and wondrous story to keep adults involved. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), Millions is the bleach the British filmmaker is using to clean the violence from his earlier exploits, but it features the same kind of character development and stunning visual presentation that made his grittier films notable. Millions is imbued with a sense of optimism about the human spirit that is somehow real and uplifting.
The film introduces us to 7-year-old actor Alexander Nathan Etel, an apparition of soft child's skin, hope and freckles. In his remarkable film debut, Etel somehow manages to pull off a quirky characterization so seamlessly that we forget he is, in fact, acting. It's quite a feat for a kid with so many lines.
Etel plays Damian, whose mother has recently died. He's obsessed with the history of the saints of the Catholic Church, and can rattle off their names and year of birth and death, and what they were most known for. To the confusion of adults, he'll recite, "Saint So-and-So, 1230 to 1270, known for gouging out her eyes to avoid having to marry a man she didn't love," etc.
We enter the story after Damian's mother is gone; what happened to her is left a mystery. Family patriarch Ronnie (James Nesbitt) is moving Damian and his older brother, Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon), out of their city brownstone to a bigger house in a new suburban development built on former farmland. Damian finds some train tracks, lugs empty boxes from the new house and creates a little fort for himself. It's in this private haven that he's first visited by a saint, St. Clare of Assisi (Kathryn Pogson), who lights up a smoke and tells him that something important is coming.
Something does come, in the form of a duffel bag full of money. This is where the story really begins: Damian, being the good boy he is, wants to save the world and help the poor by giving them the money. His brother the only person with whom he shares his find wants to buy real estate and invest, and uses the cash to increase his power at school, to great effect.
A host of funny and frightening things happen as Damian and Anthony dole out their dough. Damian is visited not only by a series of saints who help him, but also by a devil, in the form of a bank robber looking for his lost cash. The specter of harm coming to angelic Damian is indeed terrifying, and gives an edge to this otherwise lighthearted flick.
Throughout, Boyle pursues an entertaining flirtation with such serious matters as fate and faith. And though religion and spirituality are obviously matters of deep significance to the public at large, it's rare and refreshing to see them played out so effectively in modern film.