What would happen if the two beleaguered kids from Mike Newell's charming 1992 fable Into The West got their hands on a huge pile of money? That's not quite the official concept behind Millions, the latest from 28 Days Later director Danny Boyle, but it comes remarkably close to describing the film's dynamic and tone. Millons' Alexander Etel and Lewis McGibbon are middle-class British kids instead of starving scions of an Irish minority group, but their contentious-but-close relationship makes them seem like Into The West's child protagonists in better circumstances, as does the plot, in which seemingly supernatural forces help them reconnect with their father and each other after their mother's death.
Millions begins with the kind of colorful fantasy sequence that lent sparky life to Boyle films like Trainspotting and The Beach, and it continues with an appallingly funny segment in which 9-year-old McGibbon teaches his 7-year-old brother Etel that by mentioning their mother's recent death, they can extort all manner of gifts from guilty, uncomfortable adults. (When the moralistic Etel asks if this is "completely honest," McGibbon bitterly retorts, "Completely dead, isn't she?") But the film doesn't hit its stride until a sack of money falls from the sky onto Etel's head. After counting the loot, which comes to more than 200,000 pounds, McGibbon insists that they keep it secret, lest the government demand a cut, but he nonetheless proceeds to purchase high-tech toys, buy himself a cadre of followers at his new school, and start looking into real estate. Meanwhile, the more religious Etel clumsily attempts to share his bounty with the poor. With the mandatory changeover from pounds to euros fast approaching, the boys have to spend the money before it becomes worthless, but its previous owner is operating on the same schedule, and his ruthless efforts to retrieve the cash throw a threatening note into what's otherwise a sweet, almost-straight-faced family drama.
Millions completely lacks the grimy adult edge of Boyle's other films, but its complexity marks it as something more than a children's caper: Etel struggles with morality, his responsibility to himself and his family, and his affirming but alienating fantasies about interacting with saints. Meanwhile, his father and brother undergo their own, more subtle struggles. That subtlety is one of Millions' many assets: A little broad comedy keeps things perky, but the kids' excellent, restrained acting and the low-key script by The Claim screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce hold the whole sprawling project together, from weepy revelations to silly fantasy-saint sequences. Much like Into The West, Millions stars kids and boasts kid-friendly content, but its concepts and execution are appealingly grown-up.