Children of Men
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
If you're looking for a feel-good movie, this is not it. If you're in the mood for a bleak, realistic view of a possible future, well acted, and directed with visual flair, this is definitely it. The only other film by Cuarón I have seen (and only portions of that) is 1998's Great Expectations, but I'm definitely interested in checking out more of his work and look forward to his future projects. The cinematography, camera movement and editing here are nigh perfect in creating an oppressive, and depressing, atmosphere. Add to that the subtle brilliance of Owen's performance and this is a film that will haunt you for quite a while afterwards.
Based on the novel The Children of Men by P. D. James, this film is set twenty years into the future in Britain, a country in the throes of myriad problems. Bombings of public buildings are frequent, which the government blames on militant groups. One of these groups we see in action, known as the Fish (or perhaps it is Phish, I'm not sure if I saw it written anywhere). They claim it is the government planting the bombs in order to sway public opinion against the many immigrant groups who have come to escape the chaos in their native African, Asian and East European countries. And at the heart of all of this chaos is a problem which threatens the existence of humanity itself.
In today's world, we occasionally read or see the news about the oldest person dying. In the future world of this film it is major news when the youngest person dies. One of the opening scenes shows scores of people gathered around public tvs as they are stunned by the death of Baby Diego, the last person to have been born, some eighteen years previous. The reason for the infertility is never explained, whether it is men who cannot produce viable sperm or women who are barren. Not that it matters to the story here. The world has had to accept the fact that there is no future, no hope.
All of this is revealed in any preview you may have already seen, along with the fact that the Fish have discovered a miracle, a pregnant woman, and their intention is to transport her to the southern coast where a boat will take her to another group, known as The Human Project. Julian (Julianne Moore), leader of the militant group, implores her ex-husband Theo (Clive Owen) to help them obtain transport papers. He is successful, but the papers bear his own name, so he will have to accompany the young mother-to-be.
There are so many things I would like to say about this film, but most would involve spoiling several key scenes. There are characters who at first you feel are sympathetic, later revelations will alter your perception of them, and yet it is apparent they still live by what they consider an honorable code. Both Moore and Michael Caine turn in excellent performances, and unfortunately both have limited screen time. Owen shines in a difficult role, a soul-dead man who nevertheless proves that courage and chivalry still lives in the hearts of some. His growing attachment to his young charge (newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey), and his acceptance of the job he must perform, is a highlight.
Once again I must mention the direction and cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki). The entire film is exceptional, but there is an action sequence toward the end that is amazingly complex, and yet it seems as natural and flowing as a real battleground documentary. It would be interesting to find out how many takes they went through to capture that.
Normally, I would say this is the type of film that would generate interest for major awards, but I think the story takes as many potshots at the left as it does the right, so it may strike out on that score. It shouldn't though, because it is one of the best films I have seen in this decade at least.
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