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Movie Review: Children of Men

Children of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Written by Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby based on the book by P.D. James

It seems like every awards season skips by at least one of the very best films of any given year, and I’m afraid this is going to be the case with Children of Men, a movie that is better than anything in the last two years and is vying for my own personal top spot with United 93 for this year.  You know how in the introductory chapter of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caufield says he’s read a good book and wants to call the author up afterwards?  I feel this way about everyone involved with this movie.  I want to discuss things with them.  Writing this review does not suffice.

It’s 2027 and humans can no longer have children.  The youngest person living, Baby Diego, has just been killed and is being treated as a tragedy on par with Princess Di.  Walking into a coffee shop is Theo (Clive Owen), who leaves just before the place is blasted to smithereens by some terrorist bomb (or is it the government?).  It’s a war-torn society bent on inevitable destruction.  The end of the human race will not be gradual.  Meanwhile, the British government, apparently the only one still running strong, wants to throw out all foreign-born people in the interest of safety.

One of these foreign-born women may hold the key to human survival.  Theo is kidnapped by an interest group led by Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), with her right-hand man Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor).  Theo and Julian were once married, and once had a child who died at an early age.  She asks Theo to use his government ties to acquire transfer papers for a woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), who is carrying the first child known to humankind in two decades.

It is obvious that the interest group has descension in the ranks (some want the baby to be a political tool, while others just want to keep it safe until the time is right), and soon Theo is whisking off with Kee on his own, needing the help of his pot-farming friend Jasper (Michael Caine).  He needs to lead the pregnant woman through an ever-dangerous country, trying to find a boat that carries a scientific research lab known as The Human Project, that may be a myth.  But in these desperate times, there’s nothing much to lose.

Alfonso Cuaron is a master.  He keeps this movie churning at all times.  It is a relentless narrative that keeps throwing intense moments onscreen, and Cuaron gives each scene an immediacy that is missing from almost every action picture or drama you will ever see.  Almost every scene is tour-de-force, calculated with precision.  Think loads of suspense.  Cuaron shows you the antagonist of a scene and his camera sways back to the protagonist.  Then something might delay the protagonist (never anything hackneyed, like tripping over a branch or something), and the camera will sway back to show you the progress of the antagonists.  It’s an effective technique and he uses it everywhere, and these scenes are gripping, especially since they aren’t edited to death.  It reminded me of how the last hour of Heat moves, in which everything you witness seems like real time, without any gimmicks.

Add to that, one of my favorite actors going, Clive Owen, runs this show like a true everyman.  He’s not an action star, far from it.  He does what any of us would do, which makes him relatable and you root for him.  The movie never puts him in a situation where you think, “No way.”  Towards the end, he spouts one of the simplest, funniest lines you’ll ever hear.  Any justice in the world, he’d get a Best Actor nomination.

In short, it’s a masterpiece.  I don’t use this word lightly.  I haven’t said it all year, and United 93 is the only other movie this year that is allowed to be given that label.  But they are rare, and to have two in one year means 2006 has been a great one.  I just don’t think Oscar is going to recognize either, not as much as the Letters from Iwo Jimas of the world.


Comment from KW
Time: December 27, 2006, 12:31 pm

Strange that a movie I had never heard of before today could be the best movie of the year. Everything I’m finding online about it is rave, rave, rave. Guess I’ll have to go see it somehow.

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