A good movie after Oscar season ends; ‘Children of Men’ breaks mold
It is a rare pleasure to find a decent or even competently made movie released just after the New Year.
After all, Oscar season is essentially over, and studios are releasing features in which they have little to no confidence. The term “winter doldrums” is applied to the cinematic month of January because few films of any merit are released (or unleashed) into theaters at this time of year.
So, imagine the tremendous pleasure of finding an incredible movie such as “Children of Men” in this, the dead of winter. It is enough to practically melt the layers of frost right off the theater.
The story of “Children” is set 20 years in the future, and it’s not a pretty sight. Wars between governments and terrorist groups are rampant; disease pandemics have swept across the world; and worst of all, the human race has become infertile. A new child has not been born in almost two decades, leaving humanity in slow decline.
Many nations of the world have succumbed to these disasters, leaving only England to carry civilization onward. It is this war-torn, futuristic London that Theo Faron (Clive Owen) calls home. A lapsed activist, Faron moves through the day apathetically, ignoring the horrors of the world around him and dulling his misery with alcohol and nicotine. He spends much of his time with aging hippie friend Jasper (Michael Caine), hanging out in Jasper’s ramshackle cottage in the woods, smoking grass and having delirious conversations about the decaying state of the world.
However, Faron soon comes into contact with Julian (Julianne Moore), his former lover and current leader of a British resistance front. Julian enlists Faron to help escort a refugee to a secure place outside the clutches of the government.
It turns out that this refugee, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), is miraculously pregnant – and a beacon of hope for humanity. As he spirits Kee to safety, Faron is chased by the brutal military, as well as the equally brutal rebel leader Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants Kee for his own political purposes.
The strongest element of the movie is the incredible sense of atmosphere that springs from every frame. In his creation of a wretched, dystopian not-too-distant future, director and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” mastermind Alfonso Cuaron presents a bleak vision of what may come for the human race.
Like Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” Cuaron blends current trends and conditions and advances them many years in the future, imagining what might change. The result is spectacularly chilling and relevant – the threat of terrorism is omnipresent, and illegal immigrants are public enemy No. 1 in Great Britain.
“Children” is also a refreshing change from other dystopian futures presented in recent movies. Instead of becoming a hyperbolic, pseudo-Orwellian cartoon such as “V For Vendetta” or an undercooked fable about technology and diversity such as “Code 46,” the vision in this film draws on a much more realistic sense of humanity’s evolution – or is that devolution?
The issues, as Cuaron presents them, are just today’s problems magnified and intensified. And, unable to find lasting hope in the slogan “The Children Are The Future,” the human race begins to destroy itself.
Apart from the accomplished direction and fine story, “Children” also boasts uniformly strong acting from the entire cast. Clive Owen is great as Faron, balancing the character’s world-weariness with just the right amount of buried conviction. Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor give fantastic support as the ruthless, idealistic terrorist leaders. Michael Caine provides several of the film’s highlights, lending much-needed comic relief to an otherwise dark, gloomy film.
The most spectacular sequence of the film occurs near the end, as Faron winds his way through a besieged prison camp searching for the captured Kee. Cuaron films this in one long take, following Faron as he avoids the military police and rebels who are also hunting for Kee. The result, similar to Stanley Kubrick’s tracking shots through burned-out Vietnamese cities in “Full Metal Jacket,” is extraordinary; not only because of the sense of mortal danger, but because of what is at stake for the film’s characters and all of humanity.
It is truly a shame that Universal chose to release “Children of Men” so late, or early, in the movie year. Had it been released in, for instance, November or December, or September when it was originally scheduled to debut, it surely would have been a contender in the 2006 Oscar race. “Children” has set the bar very high for subsequent films in 2007. Let’s hope the winter doldrums are not so bad this year.