In the past decade, director Danny Boyle has established himself as one of the key players in edgy, independent cinema. Be it his breakthrough depiction of heroin addicts in “Trainspotting” or the violent zombie flick “28 Days Later,” Boyle has proven that he’s adept at experimenting with different kinds of material. Unsurprisingly, he has challenged himself yet again by making a movie that’s not steeped in darkness, but is filled with welcome sweetness and feel-good moments.

“Millions” tells the story of two young brothers, Damian (Alex Etel) and Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). After the death of their mother, the pain of the loss still lingers with each child — Anthony uses her death to guilt-trip people, while Damian escapes reality by having conversations with saints. On one afternoon, Damian is outside playing by a train track when a bag filled with more than 200,000 quid lands right near him. Damian informs Anthony about the loot, and the two instantly disagree about what to use it for. Anthony sees it as a way to fit in socially, while Damian — who believes the money was a “gift from God” — seeks to help the less fortunate. Adding to their troubles is a crook seeking the stolen money, and within several days, the quid will be worthless as the euro becomes the new currency through much of Europe.

With its unique visual style, “Millions” is very much Boyle’s movie. The filmmaking techniques Boyle employs feature plenty of bright colors and childlike whimsy, which help emphasize the imaginative perspective of Damian. It is also a testament to Boyle’s directorial ability that he can make the film warm, but without going overly sentimental — even though that fine line is almost crossed during the film’s climax. Unfortunately though, Boyle’s direction is not flawless — due to the loose plot, there are times when the film moves slowly.

Still, “Millions” remains endearing, insightful and clever throughout — particularly the film’s ending, when everything ties together nicely. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (“24 Hour Party People”) script wisely keeps the focus on the characters and their own conflicting beliefs. Boyce has also made one of the most memorable child protagonists for the screen with Damian, whose pure heart adds to the film’s religious subtext.

Newcomer Alex Etel easily carries the movie. Etel’s wide-eyed innocence is bound to melt any cynic’s heart, but the young thespian truly captures the soul of the character with an acute realism. Lewis McGibbon, also a newcomer, gleams with a confident intelligence that overlaps with his character’s frustration.

Even though it has a PG rating, “Millions” is not a children’s movie. Kids may enjoy its visual fancies and find themselves relating to Damian, but there are some moments that may frighten them, and the weighty issues the story deals with are bound to go over their heads. Nonetheless, Boyle can add another solid film to his resumé — he has put together a clean, mature character study about unexpected riches and the kindness people hold.

 

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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