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Movie Review: Children of Men

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Although Children of Men is centered around the tired idea of a dreary dystopian future, director Alfonso Cuaron has taken an entirely refreshing and amazing approach that will reaffirm your belief in the art of filmmaking. Adapted from a novel of the same name by P.D. James, the film presents the chilling concept of a near-future world where the entire population is infertile. No children have been born in over 18 years, and the adults have lost hope for themselves and their communities. The population stumbles through their daily routines in a rapidly disintegrating infrastructure littered with slums, abandoned schools, and fading dreams.

Clive Owen stars as Theodore Faron, a former activist who has settled into a mundane and secure existence as a cog in a corporate machine. Like most of the population, he drifts through life without any joy or purpose, just taking one day at a time as the clock slowly winds down on the entire human race. He had a child once with his long-ago girlfriend, but lost both of them when the child died. When the girlfriend re-enters his life with a surprising proposition, he’s faced with the decision about whether to remain in his comfort zone or assist her with her dangerous request. Eventually, he chooses to help her transport a refugee woman to a safe destination. He later learns that the woman is miraculously pregnant and expecting delivery within days.

England has become a wasteland, with trash piling up in the streets, deteriorating mass transit vehicles, and crumbling buildings. This bleak society is one of Cuaron’s primary accomplishments, as the production design seems so real that viewers don’t have to make any leap of the imagination to buy the concept. There are a few minor nods to technological advancement, mostly through the use of video billboards and slightly different vehicles, but the tech never detracts from the believability of the environments. Cars look like real production models covered in grime, fashion hasn’t gone off on any wild tangents, and there aren’t any hovercrafts or other futuristic toys to distract viewers. Cuaron’s London isn’t too different from today’s reality, making the film seem chillingly possible rather than absurdly abstract.

The movie’s acting duties rest firmly on Owen’s shoulders, but he’s backed up by a superb supporting cast including Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Moore’s role is far smaller than expected, making her exit all the more surprising and powerful. Caine gets the most mileage out of his brief role as an aging, slightly comical hippie, seemingly relishing the chance to play against his usual reserved type. Ejiofor isn’t given much material in his role as an activist leader, but contributes a fairly solid performance.

Another one of Cuaron’s key accomplishments is the bravura camerawork throughout the film. He could have settled for standard camera setups with multi-angle coverage and cuts, but instead designed some fascinating one-take scenes that will be studied in film schools for decades to come. One scene finds the protagonists traveling by car until they encounter an angry mob and quickly retreat in reverse gear, which doesn’t sound all that special except that the camera appears to be in the car, constantly moving from passenger to passenger to capture their dialogue at the right times as well as all of the action outside of the car. Every seat in the car was occupied, leaving even less room for maneuverability and more room for amazement. It’s reminiscent of a similar scene in War of the Worlds, but seemingly more real and thus more impressive.

The showcase one-take scene finds Owen and his compatriots struggling through a warzone as violence erupts all around them, including their temporary apprehension by pursuers, their harrowing separation, and Owen’s valiant effort to find his way back to them as he enters and climbs a building teeming with refugees under fire from military tanks. Blood gets splattered on the lens near the latter part of the lengthy run and stays there, enforcing the concept that we’re right there in the thick of things. Like this scene, much of the film was shot with handheld cameras, giving it an immediacy that forcefully involves the audience. The camerawork is completely stunning and worth the price of admission alone, but thankfully the story supports the effort as well.

The script defies expectations at every turn. Long-lost loves usually lead to rekindled flames, but this reconciliation takes a surprising turn. Good guys become bad guys, keeping us off-balance as we try to determine the resolution. The protagonist doesn’t spend time bemoaning his past to gain our sympathy, doesn’t befriend anyone or have any emotional breakthroughs. The final goal is clearly stated, but its resulting outcome isn’t explicitly defined. In short, there’s enough ambiguity and peripheral information that the overarching story feels like glorious, messy reality rather than sterile, linear fiction.

High concepts have a high probability of misfire, but Cuaron has perfected his vision of the future by focusing entirely on the reality rather than the fantasy. In turn, he has delivered a captivating, thrilling tale that transcends its source material and approaches instant classic status.

Written by Caballero Oscuro

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • The more I hear about this movie the more I want to see it. I all ready have it down onmy list to buy just as soon as it comes out on DVD.
    Great review.
    Donna A.

  • Well. I hated it and left the theater an hour into the show. I was just too bored to continue. I didn’t care about the story or the characters. Pretentious and dumb movie.

  • The Media Cid

    I enjoyed it and its reality based portrayal of a future world trying to hold on to its past. As the reviewer says the camera work brings a new perspective to the viewer and allows him entrance into the bleak, war weary world of its characters. Recommended.

  • If you like Leftist anti-Western Civilization propaganda, or suffer from a major mental illness, this is just the movie for you.

    The absurd plot is based on the idea that women will cease to have babies because of something mankind did to the planet to somehow end births

    You get the drift: anti-capitalist; anti-business; anti-Big Bad Corporations.

    So naturally, the people of this future world go absolutely ape, tribal and start killing off one another with glee after the awful truth sinks in that they are the last generation. This to my mind would be a rather bizarre reaction, since a zero population growth would open up all sorts of employment opportunities in the more wealthy nations, and, logically, immigrants — the object of Government hatred in this movie — would be welcome to keep things moving until the end days, even if they are illegal.

    I realize that facts, logic and reason have little to do with modern film making by the neo-Communist Alfonso Cuarón, but after introducing us to this “Brave New World” of a brutal, dark and dirty Bombay looking futuristic London, bombs start going off, and before you can say, “Holy Crap!,” rebels jump out of nowhere to take the hero, Theo (rather anti-hero, he’s a drunk) into the heart of darkness where “Homeland Security” (British soldiers wearing American style uniforms and helmets) seem to be killing out of hand everyone who isn’t British, or throwing a lucky few into concentration camps for deportation.

    Of course, the soldiers and police are themselves being bumped off in wholesale lots by the rebels who don’t take anyone prisoner for long except for our hero and drunk , Theo (who really gets into Drunk Acting 101 with attention to details like always carrying a bottle, losing his shoes and never taking off his raincoat), although it does help that Julian, his Feminazi girlfriend, is one of the Head Rebels. I suppose her character is meant to represent the “good and pure women” in this era who drop everything to oppose the “Fascist” regime of the day.

    Then our anti-hero Theo meets up with an elderly Michael Caine. A sort of “grandfather hippie” with long gray hair and they have a discussion on why women can’t have children — I couldn’t follow the logic his explanation, but I think it was just a general denouncing of the Industrial Revolution as the root cause of the end of births, you know, typical Leftist cheap thought.

    After that glorious scene, the story becomes a mad rush across a bleak Britain where the sun never shines, but finally our anti-hero Theo meets up with The Pregnant Girl, Kee (The first mother-to-be in twenty years who just happens to be a black and a single mom for reasons of multiculturalism and political correctness) whom he takes (I missed the reason) to something called the “Human Project.” This makes both the Government and Rebels very unhappy and gives them an excuse to create an even higher body count in comic book style action and another video game for the personal computer.

    Ronbo give this movie only a one star rating for being crude, stupid and anti-American.

    How about more realistic movie about Britain twenty years into the future where Islam has taken over the country and by force converted all Britons to Islam, or killed all of them, except for one lone pregnant Christian woman who is attempting to flee Britain to Christian America with the help of an atheistic yet noble modern day knight and member of the Underground while hunted by various Islamic militas and the dark forces of the Islamic Republic of Britain?

  • Miles Green

    Im pretty sure you missed the point of the entire movie. Abortions make human life a disposable thing. Children of Men points out the extreme value of human life and why it should never be thrown away. The scene where Clive and the girl are walking out of the building being attacked near the end, both sides stop fighting to marvel at the miracle of life. This is the point! Life is not disposable and should never be thrown away.

  • tony

    please tell me something about the other filme realted to this “the probability of hope”

  • Sarah

    I think it is sickening that every time there is shooting or bombing in American movies, there is either a call for prayer or the words “Allah Akbar”. This is also shown in this movie. When the crowd goes crazy, they scream “Allah Akbar” and it’s written on their heads. While when they see the baby, it’s “Jesus Christ”. As if people who flee to Britain cannot be anything but Islamic. And as if there are no terrorists, or just any people who kill others who are not Islamic. Islam has nothing to do with killing others. It is just as, if not less, barbarian as the Christian religion and Judaism. As in: NOT AT ALL! Those kids who went to their schools and just started shooting at random are terrorists as well. None of them are Muslim. Of course, I don’t need to tell anyone that. Nor the fact that most serial killers and rapists are white males around 40 years of age. So Hollywood should stop putting rubbish into people’s mind. I’m sick of it. Everyone who thinks Islam is a threat should read the Scarlet Letter and see what the Puritans used to do to people, and what was accepted at that time in the nations which now think they are so moral. Or watch the movie “My Name Is Khan” and maybe you will understand what Muslims go through because of the rubbish that comes on TV. Killing others is a disease of the mind. It has nothing to do with race, religion or anything else. Anyone who does not see that, has a problem of his/her own.

  • Neev

    Again and again Americans, Europeans and British who call themselves tolerant and open minded, they prove in each movie they spent a lot of time and effort to prove that they are racist. Thank you for showing us your reality.

  • Yasmine

    “Life is not disposable and should never be thrown away.” Thats a wonderful message and all but all I seen throughout the movie was the depreciation of human life and the nonsensical killing. Its really upsetting to see the worth of human life to nothing but animals caged up.