Director Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Great Expectations) outdoes himself with dazzling one-take shots of a society descending into chaos and anarchy in the futuristic thriller Children of Men. Loosely adapted from the 1992 novel of the same name by P. D. James, Children of Men tells the story of a bleak futuristic society in the United Kingdom set in the near-future of 2027 where violence reigns supreme.
In Children of Men the world is consumed by nuclear holocausts and political uprisings and as a result England is inundated by immigrants who have run from nuclear hell and crashing economies in their own countries. Immigrants, called "Fugees" (short for refugees), are captured and deposited into chain-link pens awaiting deportation to Fugee camps where they are stripped of their belongings, beaten, and forced to live in internment camps that appear to be shantytowns built within already existing cities. For some unknown reason in this world (which voice-overs suggest might be caused by runaway pollution), no child has been born for 18 years, and the film opens with the world group mourning the death of the last-born human, "Baby Diego."
Great Britain is now a totalitarian government that acts as a brutal police state in order to keep the Fugees away from the lucky ones who are British citizens. Former activist Theo (Clive Owen) is called back into action by his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore), now a radical leader fighting for Fugee rights, who needs Theo's help in getting transit papers for a young African woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who desperately needs to flee the UK. Theo reluctantly begins to help and is swept up in radical outsider politics as he realizes why Kee and the radicals are so desperate to get her out of the country.
Cuaron and his brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Y tu Mama Tambien, Meet Joe Black, A Walk in the Clouds), and production designers Jim Clay (Match Point, The Crying Game) and Geoffrey Kirkland (Glory Road, Angela's Ashes, Fame, The Right Stuff, Bugsy Malone) bring this bleak and horrifying near-future to life in wonderfully planned long panning shots of a society descending into hell.
It's too bad the script is not of the same caliber as the cinematography; five writers were credited with this script and that many scribes on a script is never a good sign. The characters are barely sketched in for us and the protagonist, Theo, has the same hangdog expression on his face for the duration of the film. Perhaps that's due to the lack of Owens' talent, or perhaps due to his direction. Either way, it's hard to identify with a protagonist who watches passively as things happen to him and who only occasionally steps up to the plate.
In another wonderful performance as Theo's friend and mentor, the cannabis growing retired newspaper cartoonist Jasper Palmer, Michael Caine is the only actor who brings pathos and depth to his character. Palmer has retreated from life into the woods to grow his weed and care for his comatose wife, and in the end provides a safe haven and an escape route for Theo and his important package, Kee. As Kee, Clare-Hope Ashitey is the only other actor to bring a touch of depth and humanity to their performance.
Children of Men leaves us with too many questions that are never explored... why isn't the infertility theme more fully explored; why the desperation to get Kee out of the country; why has Theo tired of politics; why is Theo is willing to risk his life to save Kee??? Those problems leave this film with a thrilling plot with too many unanswered questions that will lead you in the end to wonder why you should care.
The film is both beautiful and horrifying to watch, but the script, and its partially sketched characters, drag it down. Cuaron is excellent director in need of a good script.
Digital Dogs rating:Â B+
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity.
Running Time:Â 114 minutes
Producers Mark Abraham, Armyan Bernstein, Thomas Bliss, Director Alfonso Cuaron, Screenplay Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, From the novel by P. D. James, Music John Tavener, Editors Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Cuaron, DP Emmanuel Lubexki, Actors Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris,
Â© 2007 by Digital Dogs
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