This one's a warm-hearted, good-natured, colorfully-wrought, and altogether lovable little Christmas-themed Britcom ... and it comes from the director of the phenomenally nasty zombie flick 28 Days Later and the perpetually grungy druggy classics known as Trainspotting! Say what you like about filmmaker Danny Boyle, but you certainly can't accuse the guy of playing the same notes over and over.
Never one to be pinned down to a specific genre, Mr. Boyle (along with fantastic screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, Code 46)) has concocted Millions, a sincerely touching and joyously vibrant confection, a movie that will have you chuckling frequently and wearing a cockeyed smile for 90-some minutes. It's sweet without being sappy, it's funny without being schticky, and it offers a visual palette as impressive as you'd expect from the director of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave.
Damian and Alex are a pair of bright-eyed young brothers, and as Millions gets underway the boys and their widower papa are moving into a brand-new house in a slick new housing development. Still wounded over the loss of their mother, the brothers seem a little slow in adjusting to their new residence. Little Damian takes off with several large appliance boxes and builds himself a nifty little fort near the railroad tracks.
During one solitary session in his cardboard hermitage, the roof comes crashing in on Damian ... literally. The source of the problem is an overstuffed and rather heavy bag of cash. Damian immediately tells his older brother of the discovery, and the pair promptly come up with several good uses for the quarter-million pounds they've been blessed with. But since the UK is just one week away from a total currency conversion -- in seven days the boys' newfound riches will be all but worthless.
Being normal young lads, Damian and Anthony get starry-eyed about all the cool toys they can now purchase, and being sincerely generous lads, they also take care to donate big portions of their prize to the less fortunate folks in the neighborhood. (A sequence in which the young brothers invite a crew of homeless people to a dinner at Pizza Hut is a true highlight.)
But in order for there to be a story, we need some real conflict. So it comes as no surprise when a creepy criminal arrives on the scene, searching for his big cache of cash. With the conversion from pounds to Euros only a few days away, the villain wants his money in a hurry.
It's a fairly simple and straightforward little tale, but Boyle brings such a vivid energy and heartfelt attitude to the narrative - Millions is a very difficult movie to dislike. The two young lead actors are pitch-perfect, while James Nesbitt plays their quietly melancholy dad with a master's touch. There's not a trace of artifice or manipulation to be found here, and in a story that involves recently dead mommies and wide-eyed moppets - that's a pretty impressive feat.
Boyle has such an uncanny knack for visual storytelling; if I could pick any one filmmaker to helm a silent movie, Boyle would be the guy. Simple sequences of a boy climbing up a hill are delivered in such lovely fashion that you'll find an involuntary and bemused grin upon your face. Boyce's screenplay is equally warm and funny, though not in that "Awww, shucks" fashion that you'd normally find in movies with two cute kids as the lead characters. And it's all wrapped up with an oddly satisfying series of sequences ... Millions, once the credits start to roll, will leave you in a very good mood indeed. And that's a very considerate thing for a movie to do.
One of the very best films to play at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, Millions is yet another unexpected treat from one of our most consistently eclectic filmmakers. Whatever Boyle's working on next, just sign me up right now.
Video: The movie is presented in a clean, crisp, and crackin' good anamorphic widescreen transfer. Danny Boyle's movies deserve the finest DVD transfers possible, and Millions looked just lovely in my home theater.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English or 2.0 Spanish. Audio quality is qiute excellent throughout. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
The best extra is a feature-length audio commentary with director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. As usual, Mr. Boyle is laden with interesting info and insights regarding the production and the final product, and Mr. Boyce adds a lot to the chat-track as well. Fans of the filmmakers should absolutely set 90-some minutes aside for this commentary.
Four behind-the-scenes featurettes are included as well: Million Pounds (2:24), Saints (3:30), Spirit of the Film (3:27), and Robbery (4:07) cover different aspects of the Millions story and production. Interview subjects include Boyle and Boyce, producer Graham Broadbent, and actors Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, and Christopher Fulford. These mini-docs are obviously short and sweet, but I'd rather enjoy 15 minutes of warm insight than 55 minutes of padded blather.
You'll also find a collection of ten deleted scenes (with optional Play All feature), the original theatrical trailer, a soundtrack spot, and a mega-brief version of the movie labeled as a DVD Cutdown.
I just love this sweet little movie, and I've yet to meet a single movie-watcher who doesn't have a similar reaction. It's warm and funny and consistently entertaining... Frankly I think it's one of the very best films of the year, and if I can convince at least another handful of people to check it out, I'll have done my job well.
(Portions of this review have been reprinted from my Toronto '04 coverage.)