A bleak but hopeful film directed by maestro and having a certain prescience with the events of the world today, Children of Men is a futuristic thriller shot through with darkness and the possibility of salvation that’s powerful and thrilling movie making.
The year is 2027 and the world is in meltdown following disease, mass violence and the startling fact that it’s been 18 years since the last baby was born. The United Kingdom is now in the grips of a police state that persecutes asylum seekers by placing them in internment camps once they enter the country and the infertility has caused violent unpredictability in the people who occupy this grey, oppressive time. The world is on the brink of utter collapse as fighting, deceit and mistrust tears apart the fabric of society and rebels and government are pretty much in the same boat of not being entirely truthful or clear cut as they make out. Theo Faron(Clive Owen), a cynical, alcohol dependent bureaucrat with a bruised past, has no faith in this world since he lost his son to a flu pandemic. His only source of some happiness is good friend and ageing pot smoker Jasper(Michael Caine), whose affable natire is a source of brightness in a time of uncertainty and panic . Theo’s existence is shaken up when he’s contacted by his former love and activist Julian Taylor(Julianne Moore) for help with a mission that involves the militant group or ‘freedom fighters’ The Fishes. The two have history as it was the death of their son that tore them apart and some scars are still not able to be healed. She wants Theo to help her secure transit papers for a young refugee named Kee(Clare-Hope Ashitey). Julian offers money to Theo who reluctantly accepts this offer despite having long ago vowing never to return to any form of activism or help of another. Things become more volatile and the stakes are raised when Kee reveals that she’s heavily pregnant( the first person in 18 years to become so), which puts her in a truly precarious position. It also soon becomes clear that some of The Fishes, in particular the beguiling (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and angry, short-tempered (Charlie Hunnam) have less than altruistic motivations for taking an interest in Kee and if the government discovers the pregnancy, it could spell danger and near death. Aided by loyal former midwife Miriam(Pam Ferris), Theo and Kee escape and head towards The Human Project; a scientific group who some believe are just legendary but who may be able to help Kee and her baby, as well as possibly having the cure for infertility. It soon comes down to Theo, who genuinely begins to care for Kee and her baby , to help her carry the fate of humanity and get her to safety before anything more brutal can stand in their way.
Alfonso Cuarón is at the peak of his directing powers here, fashioning a startling thriller and drama of the last hope for humanity in a world that’s in essence dying. infuses the material with imagination and heart, while never shying away from the brutality of what happens society is in free fall. Co-scripting with other talented writers, Cuarón brings out themes redemption, faith and hope when it seems that the world has truly gone insane. And thankfully, these themes don’t fall into the overly preachy category, instead settling for genuine what if possibilities and how when there is something to live for, it can truly inspire even the most reluctant of us. Interestingly as well, the government is portrayed as corrupt but so are the alleged freedom fighters. This adds more to the danger of how skewered the world can be when there isn’t a clear cut, black and white situation at hand and once again feels rather prescient given the current world climate. Children of Men is probably most famous for its visual style and for very good reason. The long takes that Cuarón and talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use are simply exquisite in positioning us right at the centre of events, most prominently in a car scene that turns brutal and a climactic running battle that Theo and Kee find themselves in. Scenes like this and the technical wizardry and panache are why Cuarón and Lubezki make such a fantastic team; they obviously have a very fine understanding of each other’s styles and how to really craft something that looks highly innovative. I can’t wax lyrical enough about how Children of Men looks and how this plays into the overall feel of the movie which is rather prophetic of certain situations occurring right now in the world. A few parts lag but the vast overall impact of Children of Men more than makes you forget them and focus on the sheet excellence throughout . A well chosen soundtrack compliments the movie, as does pieces of heavenly voices that hint at redemption and some light in the darkness that are tempered by a certain ringing whenever something bad is about to happen.
Clive Owen takes centre stage in what is one of his best performances. He starts as a wounded man who doesn’t believe in sticking his neck out for anyone to reluctant protector regaining humanity. Owen owns the part of reluctant hero with his fair share of damage who genuinely goes through a journey in treacherous territory. Owen’s weary and cynical face speaks volumes in his silences, chipping away at a man with no hope who rediscovers his ability to fight and be someone of help when salvation seems at its lowest ebb. In short, Clive Owen is a compelling lead in both terms of action and emerging heart. Julianne Moore, in a short but excellent performance, functions as the propeller of narrative as she is the one who instigates the main undertaking. Considering she’s only on screen for a short duration, the always credible Moore brings gravitas, steel and a sense of lived invulnerability to the part in customary sublime fashion. The same can be said for Michael Caine who turns in memorable, scene stealing work as an ageing hippy who grows marijuana and provides Theo with some sort of family and love. It is Caine who provides some levity to the oppressiveness of things but also has enough subtle shading to also aid the gravity of the situation. Caine wisely underplays the part, never going over the top as a lively, funky old dude with wisdom and playing him with a careful balance of humour and seriousness. Like Moore, Caine isn’t onscreen for a long time but also like Moore, he makes his presence felt. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Charlie Hunnam are both very effective as respectively a ‘freedom fighter’ whose ideals are skewered beneath seeming kindness and a dreadlocked, trigger happy backup with a bad, surly attitude to most things. In the very important role of the first pregnant woman in 18 years, the young and very talented Clare-Hope Ashitey portrays vulnerability, feistiness and attitude ensuring her character is far from a victim even though everyone is either out to kill her or use her. Pam Ferris beautifully plays the former midwife who tries to remain grounded through spiritualism and has a calming, maternal effect on the characters and the viewers. Watch out for an eye catching turn by Peter Mullan; here playing a sadistically unbalanced guard who seems to help Theo and Kee but whose unpredictable nature and habit of speaking in the third person set your nerves on a knife edge.
Powerful movie making that delivers on the thriller good as well, Children of Men is an unforgettable movie with the sensational Alfonso Cuarón at the helm and boasting credible performances, stunning cinematography and intense but human thematic value.