Clio Barnard has done wonders for Bradford. The director’s acclaimed films The Arbor, The Selfish Giant and Ali & Ava have transformed the West Yorkshire city into a cinematic treasure chest. Far too many British films take place or are filmed in London or the more suburban areas and Barnard’s efforts in bringing that distinct northern-ness to the big screen are much appreciated.
Jack Spring now attempts a similar feat with his new feature film Three Day Millionaire. His town of choice is Grimsby, which is probably best known in cinema for the Sacha Baron Cohen film Grimsby or as it is known over the pond, Brothers Grimsby. That film memorably featured a scene in which Baron Cohen and Mark Strong are forced to hide in an elephant’s vagina and are doused in elephant semen.
Surely Three Day Millionaire can only improve the connotations that Grimsby has in cinema? Yes and no. Spring’s film brings forth worthwhile themes and topics, but they’re drowned under a much more traditional and unexciting heist plot. By choosing comedy, Spring waters down what he wants to say instead of using laughter to amplify his message.
The film gets its title from the short holiday trawler men like our protagonist Curly Dean (James Burrows) get. Once the biggest fishing port in the world, Grimsby is now a place most have forgotten. When their company is being sold off, Curly and his mates devise a plan to commit a robbery that would set them up for life.
Three Day Millionaire aims to be Ocean’s Eleven by way of Ken Loach. Unfortunately it lacks the devastating honesty of Loach’s best or the sheer fun and cleverness of any of the Ocean’s films (Yes, even Ocean’s Thirteen). Spring fails to paint a larger picture of Grimsby as a community; the characters are mostly drawn with broad, stereotypical strokes and they lack authentic inner lives.
Spring shows admirable potential for creating a visually dynamic film, but the script by Paul Stephenson is a mess. Unfocused and sprawling, Three Day Millionaire can’t figure out if it wants to be a heist comedy or a social realism drama, landing somewhere in the awkward in-between.
It’s disappointing, because Three Day Millionaire has all the ingredients for a great little gem of a film. James Burrows lends cheeky charm to his character; Curly Dean feels like that one guy we all know, the cheeky chappie that always has more ambition than skill. Colm Meaney’s role is small, but the veteran actor infuses it with a devilish spirit.
Unfortunately, Spring’s treatment of the women in his film is less than ideal. They’re bland and I can’t remember any of their names. To be honest, they’re mostly present for the men to shag and woo. The women’s only aspirations are related to the men in their lives and they exist only to push them forward in a case of classic male gaze.
What a shame. Three Day Millionaire could have been a really thoughtful and clever dig into post-Brexit Britain and put Grimsby on the map. Instead, it leans too heavy on stereotypes and genre cliches to deliver its uninspiring and confusing messaging.
Three Day Millionaire is released on 25 November in UK cinemas and on digital platforms.