Three Day Millionaire is a film that needs to be watched at least twice. On the first viewing, you'd be forgiven for dismissing director Jack Spring and writer Paul Stephenson's film as a somewhat entertaining, Northern equivalent of the cheeky chappie, Guy Richiesque pop films. You'd be forgiven because that's what Three Day Millionaire is, on the surface, anyway. At times this film feels like it came out 25 years too late. So doing it implies that the 90s Cool Britannia wave has only just now reached Northeast England.
But, on a second viewing, it becomes clear that there is something more to this film just under the surface.
Set in the fading glory of Grimsby's fishing fleet, Three Day Millionaire is the story of Curley Dean (James Burrows), Budgie (Sam Glen), and Codge (Michael Kinsey). And Gilly (Lauren Foster), Queenie (Grace Long), and Demi (Melissa Batchelor). And Mr Barr (Colm Meaney) and Mr Graham (Jonas Armstrong). And Wheezy (Robbie Gee).
It's only a 92-minute film.
And here is the major stumbling block of Three Day. Too many characters to care about in too short a time. We are left with fleeting impressions of them with no connection. Other than a brief stylized cel-shade intro card with one sentence description to offer motivation and a voice-over from Curley. We discover most of the basics and the depth of a handle full, but an extra half hour would have flushed them out to seem like real people instead of caricatures. There is Curley, the rouge with the heart of gold trawlerman. Gilley, the career-minded love interest for Curley. Budgie, the sweet but naïve sidekick. And Codge, the living embodiment of 1998 Club Culture.
Curley and Budgie return to port after a period of fishing and try to live it up as “Three Day Millionaires.” A piece of trawler man folklore has that anyone going back to sea without spending their pay is doomed. Curley lives life large, breaking the fourth wall to tell the viewer that Grimsby's fishing industry will return and he will achieve the standing his dad had back in the Day. But when the actions of a group of developers hell-bent on gentrifying the area, their boss Mr Barr takes the half-million-pound deal and pulls the plug on Grimsby's fishing. Broken and betrayed, Curley and his crew are approached to help take back what is rightfully theirs and even the score for the community.
With so many characters, the viewer would expect a hyperlink style of cinema, multiple interconnecting storylines that remain independent, similar to Snatch. Instead, it is akin to a single massive plot with about four subplots orbiting its gravitational field before being crushed once past the third act event horizon.
Yet despite that, there are little nuggets of something more happening on first viewing. Discussions around community, class and hope for a fabled golden age long gone lead the viewer to think more might be happening here than first meets the eye.
Only once a second viewing takes place the subtext becomes clearer.
Take Curley; at the start, he talks to camera, explaining the situation and motivations to the viewer. There is a Human Traffic by way of Guy Richie vibe to the characters and cinematography. Once the news that the Grimsby's fishing is dead, something changes. The film style shifts, the visuals mature along with the characters. The direct-to-camera stops. The stripping of Grimsby matches the stripping of youthful energy. Behind the comedy is a social drama of characters hoping for better and getting told by Authority they have no chance. The self-destruction they have gets placed in context. Forced to confront the disposableness of their existence, Curly, Budgie and Codge have to accept their plans for tomorrow are pipedreams that rely on the goodwill of greedy people.
The lighting shifts from naturalistic to emotional conflict. The plot for revenge becomes less about the goal and more about the attempt at justice for the city's working class. It can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed, but it is still fresh air to see today—resistance to the attacks of neoliberal devastation on industries and communities.
That's the subtext and cinematography done; what about the comedy?
Comedy's there. Sometimes it's cringe-worthy; other times subtle. There are a good few laugh out loud moments and skewering of tropes, though there are parts where it comes across as cheap and lazy. However, that doesn't make it bad. Just cheap and lazy.
Three Day Millionaire is definitely a flawed, well, not masterpiece but a good film. It has a strong subtext, a growing maturity brought through Jack Spring's direction, and a few laughs. But too many characters spoil the hour-and-a-half broth. An extra half hour to understand and flush the characters could have made it a true classic. Right now, it's an enjoyable film that's worth a watch.