By Zach Hagadone
What happens when the imagination of a bereaved school kid collides with the reality of cold, hard cash? A comedy-drama about grief, morality, empathy and soul, such as the 2004 film Millions from English director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Part of the Ting-sponsored Global Cinema Cafe Series, the film will get two showings Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the Panida Theater, introducing viewers to Damian (Alex Etel) and his older brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) — two boys who have recently lost their mother and come into an unexpected amount of dough.
Damian is by far the more soulful of the brothers, spending his lonely hours imagining conversations with various Catholic saints in a cardboard fort next to the tracks in their Liverpool suburb. Life takes a surprising turn one day when a huge sack of English pounds hurled from a passing train lands near Damian’s hiding place — the result of a daring robbery by a band of Liverpudlian crooks.
When presented with the shocking windfall — coming just before a fictional conversion in the U.K. from the pound to the Euro — Anthony’s first impulse is to keep the money, either investing it in real estate or playing the currency market. Deeply faithful Damian, however, sees in the money an opportunity to do good works, and embarks on a number of minor kindnesses.
The missing money starts to attract attention, however, both as the robbers return to reclaim their ill-gotten lucre and Damian takes it upon himself to donate a huge sum to a charity drive at his Catholic school.
Things get more complicated and increasingly perilous from there, with Damian repeatedly seeking advice from his imaginary saintly advisers.
Millions is decidedly removed from Boyle’s broader cinematic oeuvre, which includes Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine — none of them exactly “kid-friendly.” But he also made Slumdog Millionaire — which received 10 Oscar nominations and eight wins in 2009, including for Best Picture and Best Director — suggesting Boyle may have a soft spot for variously stricken kids who come into a lot of money.
The story comes from Boyce, however, who released a novel of the same name based on the screenplay a few months before Millions premiered in theaters in 2004 — a strange case of the movie actually coming before the book, but the book coming out before the movie.
No matter the head-scratching order of operations, librarians in Britain awarded the book the Carnegie Medal and it made the short list for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and Branford Boase Award. Meanwhile, the film won Best Screenplay at the British Independent Film Awards in 2005.
Millions earned an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.8/10 on IMDb, while late-film critic Roger Ebert gave it four stars, calling it “a family film of limitless imagination and surprising joy,” and praising its casting and writing.
There is a lot of invention in Millions — the fictitious plot device of a change-over from the British pound to the Euro is even more far-fetched 16 years later and post-Brexit — but it all works, including Damian’s spiritual confabs, which are frequently played for comic effect as well as to tug on audiences’ heartstrings.
“It’s not sanitized brainless eye candy,” Ebert wrote. “Like all great family movies, it plays equally well for adults — maybe better, since we know how unusual it is.”
Millions (PG) • Sunday, Nov. 20; 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., doors open 30 minutes before the show; $8 adv./$10 door for adults; $7 adv./$9 door for youth and seniors. Panida Theater, 300 First Ave., 208-263-9191, get tickets at panida.org.
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