on 27 June 2014
Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men" is an adaptation of the P.D. James dystopian novel about the breakdown of all social institutions when the human race ceases the ability to procreate and faces the likelihood of its own extinction.
Chaos and civil war overtake the globe, and, in Great Britain, Orwellian fascism is the only order left as refugees are imprisoned in cages, the middle class disintegrates, terrorist acts (usually by the government) are a daily occurrence, and underground rebels fight on for revolution, trying to maintain some futile hope.
While the film's events occur in 2027, 20 years in the future, the film becomes more of a comment on the Now with its pro-war stance by the government and "Homeland Security" to protect us all. But the film transcends politics to focus on its human level, specifically on the character of Theo Farin (played to existential perfection by Clive Owen) who fatefully goes through a rite-of-passage similar to Bogie in "Casablanca" - that of a man who had pulled himself away from involvement in a war-torn world finding himself now beginning to discover a newly-reborn idealism.
Brilliantly, many references to key art works of the 20th Century fill the film. e.g., musical references from rock and classical works: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, iconic rock songs -- along with Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Penderecki and Gustav Mahler, whose first song in the "Kindertotenlieder" ("Songs for Dead Children") is quoted. Images are staged in the style of great paintings, and, most importantly, Picasso's "Guernica" becomes the major symbolic icon of the film, with the cinematography drained of bright colors to convey perfectly the film's atmosphere.
But over all, Cuarón's directing is breathtaking, with his long Wellsian single-takes that truly nail the viewer directly into the world of the film. This is a masterpiece, and ultimately not one of bleakness but of hope, and one of the truly top intellectual and emotional experiences of 2006.
I suspect that if one agrees with what appears to be director Alfonso Cuaron's premise, that humankind's basest instincts for selfishness, fouling its own nest, violence toward each other and the acceptance of authoritarianism when faced with fear can be met by the redemptive power of hope and love, then one will accept Children of Men as a film of emotional power.
For me, Children of Men is a movie in which Cuaron tries to stuff in far too many actions. He seems to aiming for the kind of allegory that can change the way we feel about our lives, but he winds up making many of the compromises that movies force upon some directors as they find themselves with big budgets to work with and the need to sell tickets to justify the investment.
The story, as has been pointed out by others, is one big Macguffin. It's 2027 and civilization has fallen to its knees. The world is nothing but chaos, terrorism, a rotting environment and death. Britain has managed to survive as a nation state by becoming a horrendous dictatorship, needing immigrants for menial work and turning them into outcasts, periodically rounding them up along with the fugees, the refugees from the world's chaos who managed to slip past Britain's barriers. Concentration camps are filling up, laws are enforced with ferocity, there are no civil rights and the government has become the greatest killer of them all. In exchange, the British have order.
And it has been 19 years since a baby was born, anywhere in the world. Humankind has mysteriously become sterile. The point of the movie is that a frightened young woman is discovered to be pregnant. In an instant she becomes the center of the movie...will she be used by rebels to try to undermine the government? Will she find a way to escape by sea to some almost mythical group of scientists who are searching for peace and an answer to humankind's infertility? Will she and her baby be killed? Will they survive? It seems her only hope will be a burned-out, used-up functionary who once tried to change things, years ago. From the time this man first meets this scared girl-child and realizes that she's pregnant, to the end of the movie in a small rowboat waiting to see if mankind has a future, we're on a medieval journey through the terrors of hell as the girl and her protector deal with hatred, avarice, brutality, imprisonment, death and war.
The question for me was: Is all this Macguffining well done enough to be interesting? If it is, is the story itself worth it?
You'll have to make up your own minds. Simply as a story, I think whatever success Children of Men has had has depended on Clive Owen. He's the protector and he's in just about every scene. Owen is a fine actor. Unlike many actors who have made it to the top, he is most effective reacting. He seldom indulges in flashy heroics in his movies and doesn't do so here. At first, he's uncertain, confused and cautious. When he commits himself to the journey, he doesn't have all the answers, just a willingness to take advantage of opportunities and to risk his life because he's come to believe in what he is doing. It's a first-rate performance.
But then we have Julianne Moore as a rebel leader and Owen's former wife. In my view, she's too big a name for the size of the part, and the part is too large for the story. Michael Caine has a juicy role as Owen's older friend. He's gotten up to look like Brent Spiner in Independence Day. Caine does a nice job, but both he and Moore infect the movie with "star" presence. I think both roles would have been better for the movie if played by little known but good actors. Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent as a dedicated and even ruthless rebel leader. But the movie only needs Owen, and he delivers.
Cuaron, in this medieval miracle tale, has given us a great look at the hell humanity has made for itself. At times, for me, he lingers on and expands this view the better to sell tickets. The whole extended urban battle at the end of the movie seemed to go on and on for no great purpose than to show us how a well-crafted urban war can be presented. Most of the movie's horrors, in fact, are so carefully framed and photographed, so well and ingeniously lit, that I was always aware I was watching a movie. Most movie-ish of all was that heavenly voice wafting down on us as humanity's redemption is resolved by a young mother and her baby.
This is one of those movies that, for me, needs to be taken seriously simply because a talented director with serious themes has made it. In this era of endless comic book movies and films with the old ultra violence, Cuaron deserves our respect. So does Clive Owen.
Try Owen in Croupier. To see Julianne Moore at her finest, try Vanya on 42nd Street. And for a taste of near sighted ur-dystopia not to be missed, read David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries.
on 25 January 2010
I was failing to see why such a good film had so many negative reviews until, I read them. Honestly; it's like an idiot's forum!
It's miserable, they complain. IT'S DYSTOPIA!! What do you expect? If you don't like harrowing, gritty stories don't watch them.
Irrespective of your opinion on Clive Owen's acting this role suits him well; following personal tragedy (the death of his son, and subsequent loss of his wife) and the world around him going to hell we find a dry, cynical, alcoholic. More than that actually; he's a rationalist and able to keep his head under pressure. In this world he's a survivor, and for us, he's a convincing survivor.
At points there is little dialogue but still great seeping atmosphere; more pause for thought time. God knows what all these reviewers would have people talk about; people in fear of their lives generally don't talk too much and the scattered quiet scenes with no dialogue intensify the feeling of despair.
One reviewer informs us that the film must have been made with a small budget as "The streets look as if rubbish was collected a year ago" and "there is no space left for anymore graffiti". Never mind the truly stunning cinematography (fantastic long single shots). What does this reviewer think post-apocalyptic anarchy will look like exactly? The film looks like London ten years in the future on the brink of collapse; which is what it's aiming for funnily enough.
A note on films from books: I like the PD James book, but I felt that the story of the film was more realistic and had less gaps. The book being an altogether tidier affair, less violent and with weaker characters and no context of how the rest of the world was fairing.
One last note: Michael Caine plays a minor character (very well) which is very different from a cameo role.
Overall this is a survival story set in the context of an interesting sci-fi concept (which would be spoilt if we knew the cause) which aims to highlight the fragility of modern society (including the onset of fascist elements which we are all too quick to tie to other peoples / eras) whilst suggesting what a lesser future may (or may not) look like with excellent atmosphere.
The characters suit their roles without being overpowering (pawns effectively) and the effects and filming is fantastic. I don't see any room for complaints.
on 31 August 2015
I would have never expected to give this film 5 stars...until I watched it.
Probably it is because I considered Cuaron a good independent director just adopted bythe mainstream world of US Studios, with good skills but not a particular touch or personal point of view.
Instead, both here and his following masterpiece, Gravity, he proved to be a bold and maverick director, for the scripts he chooses to the waty he turn them into moving-pictures.
Children of men has a fantastic consistency in all his aspects: the amazing and revolutionary long shot and traveling camera movements are not just an astonishing aestethic demonstration of visual and technical force, but also a totally justified and appropriate way to put us into the story and make us live how order can change, suddenly, into chaos, with no solution of continuity. And so Cuaron asked his fantastic director of photography to come up with something creative to let his vision be possible and find a visual solution on the screen. And that is the same reason why actors gave such wonderful performances: because, all in the same shot, they managed to show their internal change during in the scenes, in a totally natural way.
And this increase and show to our eyes all the drama of this distopic reality and the mortal air that surround this world, make us live the change and trauma and feelings of the characters, and put some heart in cold and bleak mood of the film. A very intellectual film, although full of great action: a film where there is no mercy but also an existential and suffered look at human dramas. Due mainly to a great Clive Owen, who expose all the range of his acting skills and personal color. Children of Men is a bold and unique film under many points of view and the amazing result of a great team work.
The Blu ray is truly excellent, both in the hd transfer and audio quality, and in the many interesting extra.
on 30 December 2007
I just saw this movie and it left a very strong impression on me. I was really shaken by its totally realistic portrayal of a fascist society, it was so believable it was even very painful to watch certain scenes -- like the shootings during the uprising in the camp, filmed very closely like a war reporter and not in a hollywoodian "aesthetic" fashion. I really identified with the characters and shed some tears several times.
I would like to compare this movie to another of my favourites : V for Vendetta -- Clearly, I found C of M more disturbing because far more realsitic than V, and thus more likely to awaken people to certain realities, whereas V's atmosphere of "superhero / spectacular movie" makes it less believable, less likely to awaken people, and yes, in a way it kind of misses its target. (Don't get me wrong, I LOVE V, but I don't think it has a potential for awakening people who are still totally unaware of the Terror of the situation : it's too far from being realistic in the way the theme is treated.)
What I also want to point out is the non "black or white" aspect of C of M, which shows the ponerization/corruption of governement AND resistance, thus revealing there is actually no resistance in the sense of "organised political/activist movement" (or if there is, they get killed : ie Julian's murder and Theo's death at the end).
FWIW, when I saw the Matrix in 1999, I didn't get it at all (I even fell asleep during the movie, which is quite ironic:)). Had I seen V at the same period, I would not have got it either. I consider myself as an average person, and as an average person, films like C of M impress me more. Another reason could also be that its touch is more European, just like Pan's Labyrinth (though the directors are Mexican), less special effects (their frequent use in many American movies can be irritating sometimes), less slick, and much rougher, which I like in European / other countries' movies (Irish movies for ex).
So, all in all, a very good and powerful movie which I recommend.
on 22 December 2006
This film has not been given the recognition it deserves, the scenes and characters contain a gritty realism that keeps you immersed in the story. It is set in the near future and is a mild sci-fi, but if you don't like the genre do not be put off, as the believability in the storyline and characters are really well done and the technology are not alien to today's. At moments in the film you can't second guess how things will play out. I wish more films were shot in the same way this one was, it captures the same feeling of reality as saving private ryan did and it has some brilliant action scenes. If you're British, then you will enjoy this even more as it's made in the UK and therefore, has no cliché and typical script.
As I heard someone say, Clive Owen is the best action hero who never picks up a gun. I am usually a patient cheapskate and wait to buy a film I like as it goes down in price, but this one I'll be buying on day of release. Do not miss out, buy it.
on 13 December 2006
The movie is superb. I watched it (twice) in a good cinema with good and loud stereo, and it makes a difference. The sound effects are awesome and I guess some impact must be lost on the small screen. It is a mixture of elements of sci-fi, thriller, drama, the road and even war film. It is very well directed, especially when hand held camera is used, and brilliantly shot. It contains some of the most convincing scenes of urban warfare I've ever seen. Acting is good - especially by Owen and Caine. The script, upon closer examination, has more to it than at first meets the eye, I think its meanings could be discussed even at psychology, religion or philosophy seminars. As usual with a very good film, it can be admired for a few reasons.
on 5 June 2014
Alfonso Cuarón the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and more recently the director of Gravity, signed an other masterpiece with Children of Men. To make it, he worked with a cast dignified of a blockbuster, notably with Clive Owen and Michael Caine.
The plot takes place in a futuristic English dictatorship in 2027. The worlds is struck by twenty years of infertility and fall down in the chaos. There were no new births for two decades. That's why the UK government established the martial law. But in this world in perdition, the hope comes back to life when a woman gets pregnant. Theo Faron -an administration bureaucrat- is kidnapped by an activist group which protects the last hope of humanity against the martial institution. The boss of this group is the ex Theo's wife who trusts in Theo to help them to obtain passport to reach the south of England. At this place a scientist group name Azore would take the woman to find a cure against infertility. But Theo gets himself involved against his wish in an adventure for which the future of our world is playing...
Visually, this film creates a very grey and heavy atmosphere where the cast is first rate. Clive Owen is left loyal to himself and giving very convincing performance. Sometimes the film is fast moving and sometimes it is slow moving but it's not a negative point because this time allows us to think about the situation of the world. I promise you a gripping film!
A world where humans can no longer conceive is on the brink of total meltdown. The government has finally achieved the totallitarian state it is striving so hard for now and the working classes are split between those trudging through the routine of survival and all out anarchy. Its grey, miserable and pointless, but most of all its the most accurate view of the disasterous future seen on film for some time.
Into this hopeless mess comes a young African girl who is pregnant and is entrusted to clive owens former anarchist for safekeeping. Trouble is hes gone a bit soft and he soon finds out that he cant trust anyone.
Avoiding all the usual "thats not going to happen" silly inventions and robot filled dreamworld that all too often takes over sci-fi movies, this is all too believable and the advances shown all seem possible. The grim britain portrayed is a superb dark toned hopeless wasteland where the human race is raging for one last time before disappearing forever.
All involved give convincing performances and the effects and backdrops are all superbly realised.
The picture is sharp and the CGI holds up well. So too the sound is as clear as a bell and steering effects spot on.
This is not a film to cheer you up or put a smile on your face but it is a disturbingly realistic fast forward into the not so distant future with a gripping plot and a fresh look at the sci-fi genre. Recommended.
on 8 April 2015
"It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism"...I recommend reading 'Capitalist realism' by Mark Fisher as an accompaniment to this film. He makes some interesting comments contextualizing the film among other dystopias. The film itself is gritty and compelling and manages to portray characters you care about despite the desperate and nihilistic state of the world..