Money, money, money. It’s the touchstone of Danny Boyle’s work, from the suitcase of loot in Shallow Grave and the stash of cash Renton walks away with at the end of Trainspotting to the shower of pilfered banknotes in A Life Less Ordinary. It’s the currency of his characters’ lives, the illusory promise of happiness, the false grail that turns the sane into the deranged. People will do anything for moolah. Hell, they’ll even go to Hollywood.
Boyle, though, has had a change of heart. After his brush with the studios on The Beach, the Mancunian helmer is immune to Tinseltown’s blandishments. Indeed, beneath Millions’ wistful wish-fulfilment fantasy, you can clearly spot a cautionary tale. Money can buy you cool stuff; it can help your widower dad (James Nesbitt) get a new girlfriend (Daisy Donovan). But can it bring a dead mum back to life? Can it bollocks.
Whimsy, however, does not come easily to this filmmaker. Drug-fuelled reveries, yes, and bloodthirsty zombies, but not gentle yarns about imaginative kids. Try as he might to see the world from a child’s point of view, the adult Boyle keeps reappearing – in eye-catching sequences of conspicuous consumption or the recreation of a daring train heist. Saddle him with a nativity play, though, and he’s all at sea.
Boyle tries to disguise his discomfort with the material by falling back on tried-and-tested stylistic tricks, like kinetic editing and a pumping soundtrack. He even manages to draw half-decent performances from his fresh-faced leads. But you can’t help feeling he’s treading water here, struggling to get a handle on writer Frank Cottrell Boyce’s uneasy blend of Christian allegory and magical-realist fable. Besides, what’s a self-confessed atheist doing directing a movie where an eight-year-old schoolboy receives visitations from Catholic saints?