- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Film comedy is hard. Capturing faith on celluloid makes comedy look like a snap.

Director Danny Boyle has managed the feat with “Millions,” a saga of two motherless boys who wrangle with themes of greed, goodness and faith.

Yes, the man responsible for the heroin-laced “Trainspotting” has lobbed a family film into the marketplace to run alongside “The Pacifier.”

Heaven help Mr. Boyle.

“Millions” follows two British boys who wrestle with their young souls when a satchel full of soon-to-expire currency lands in their laps.

Mr. Boyle, in town recently to promote his latest project, gently disagrees that the film is a religious spectacle.

What he doesn’t deny is the role his own faith had in its creation.

“We wanted to make a film about generosity, although there is a religious aspect to it,” says Mr. Boyle, who grew up Catholic but sounds as though he has amicably parted ways with the church. “It came flooding back to me as soon as we started [shooting].”

He boosts his argument by recalling an interview with a Catholic publication days before his visit to Washington.

“We never talked about religion at all,” he says with a warm chuckle.

This uncommon family picture features a saint who smokes reefer, but its overall tone is soulful, not didactic or doctrinaire. That may be enough to scare off some who otherwise might support the film. Yet no one has either attacked or supported the film based on its theological politics, Mr. Boyle says. So far.

If the film is about faith, he says, it deals with faith in our fellow man.

“Some people can see that as a religious thing,” Mr. Boyle says. “You can have that devotion outside of a church.”

It’s hard to imagine the man who unflinchingly depicted the ravages of addiction and, later, showed the darkest side of humanity in his artful zombie fest “28 Days Later” possessing the delicacy to tell the story of a family devastated by the mother’s death.

In person, the director doesn’t look like a film veteran, or even a man coming off a sleeper hit like “Days.”

He won’t even call himself an auteur, though his body of work more than merits such a tag.

Mr. Boyle retains a boyish twinkle that belies his 48 years.

It’s an enchantment echoed in the face of child actor Alex Nathan Etel, the boy whose outstretched heart carries the film.

In directing young Alex, Mr. Boyle learned that the less he did, the better the child performed.

“You tend to leave your fingerprints on them,” he says. “It’s horrible. If your kids are good in a film, the director gets a lot of the credit, but they do less.”

It’s not the first lesson he learned making movies.

After “Trainspotting” landed him on the tongues of the cooler Hollywood elite, he plucked several young stars from the city’s galaxy. First, he teamed Ewan McGregor with Cameron Diaz in the supernatural screwball comedy “A Life Less Ordinary.” Then, a bigger bust came with “The Beach,” which starred the red-hot Leonardo DiCaprio.

“They hurt,” he says of the two films’ failures, his cheery mood undimmed by the topic. “I can see why people feel the way they feel about them … . In an organic way, they lead you to make things better.”

By “better,” he means with small budgets and equally small stars.

Not that he has anything against the big-budget system, mind you.

“As a consumer, there’s nothing I like more than watching a big-budget film,” he says. “The scale of it is just outrageous. I’d love to be able to do that … but I don’t think I’m very good at that stuff.”

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