I’ve recently been battling my way through the emotional bruising that is Sony’s 2013 game-changing game “The Last of Us,” and I thought it was therefore somehow fitting that the film I should review today would be Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 game-changing dystopian film, Children of Men. Few films (in fact, no other film I can think of) capture the sense of hopelessness and gritty realism that Children of Men does, and as I played through the opening segments of “The Last Of Us” all I could think was that Children of Men may have inspired far more lasting effects – to the benefit of those of us eager for quality storytelling – than even the film’s visionary director may have known. I will talk more on length about “The Last Of Us” in a later review. For now, I will stay in Cuaron’s interpretation of our (equally dark) future. Suffice it to say – enter at your own risk.
Set in 2027, Children of Men operates on a simple premise – we, humanity, the apes with guns, can’t make babies anymore. No one knows why – different characters weigh in on the question troughout the film. Some say it’s genetic experiments, pollution, others say it’s the wrath of God for all those multitudes of sins we’ve been racking up at the credit counter. Theo Faron, however – played masterfully by Clive Owen – honestly doesn’t care. Theo is your run of the mill alcoholic, chain smoking once-was-almost-a-hero-in-the-name-of-poon character. We like him, even though we shouldn’t. We like him because he doesn’t care about the circumstances he finds himself in simply because he is already so foregone in the wake of his depression. We like him because he’s given up. His humor, however, is somehow intact.
The cast of this film is remarkably assembled. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and the nigh unknown yet here-unforgettable Charlie Hunman (Patric, the blonde, who consistently runs into things outside cars and yet remains somehow terrifying) and Clare Hope-Ashitey (Kee, the Girl) comprise the bulk of the heavy-lifting. The acting in the film is such that the story doesn’t hinge on names, but instead on character. Take, for instance, Kee’s quest to find a name for her baby, entertaining Froley and Bazouka as possible candidates. Kee does decide on a name, much like the film does land on a morsel of redemption, but you will have to watch it to see what those revelations entail.
You can’t discuss this film without addressing its main quality – the cinematography. Brilliant camerawork is often understated, but once it’s been seen it simply can’t be unseen. There are only a few films I can think of that seem to subscribe to the same school of thought as Cuaron did here – he seems to know that the camera is the Storyteller in a way even the characters play second to. The camera is unblinking, roving, desperate, sometimes nauseating or nauseated, and in a word – brilliant. The most famous (to me, anyway) of these scenes is a battle sequence towards the end of the film that carries on in one continuous, ten minute shot.
I thought about that for a while after I realized what was happening. Ten minutes is a long time to chase actors around with a hulking camera, especially when you see what they’re doing while they’re running. Artillery fires, sets explode, firefights break out, dozens of extras pack corridors and inhabit rooms. You believe, without doubting for an instant, that life carries on in the building before the camera moves into it. People are alive – or fighting to stay alive – on every floor. The camera merely stumbles across them. At one point, a stray bullet strikes the wrong target, and blood freckles the lens. My head jerks back, or down, or away. I realize I’m in the fight, hugging close to Theo’s back, as afraid of the bullets and shrapnel as he is. It’s because the camera is our big, obtrusive eye. Cuaron seems to know this, and uses it to incredible effect.
I don’t want to comment on the storyline of this film, in part because there are a couple of twists, and also in part because I like leaving the story to the film to relay in its own manner. Suffice it to say, however, that the story is one of resiliency and hope. The people in the film are almost universally unlikeable (with the exception of Michael Caine’s character, Jasper, who is utterly lovable) and yet we believe in them. It’s a world populated by chipped people, people so sharp that they cut us if they try and hug us, but we follow them around regardless. We want what’s best for them, we want the to find a happily ever after, because it’s our happily ever after as well.
This is a heavy, heavy film. Do not approach lightly, but please, by all means, approach. It’s a film that you will leave and be better for it, a film that improves its audience by holding their feet to the fire and reminding them just how much they really have going for them. Any film that can make us appreciate our families, our children, our capacity to have children, and the promise of tomorrow is a movie I would recommend to anyone. I may not recommend it for a sunny afternoon, but then, I guess I’d wonder why you’d spend a sunny afternoon in a movie anyway. Children are for the day. Films are for the night.
The Good: The best dystopian film with an opening that will haunt your dreams.
The Bad: A slightly weighty run time.
The Ugly: The closeness of this future to our own world, and the echoes of ourselves who populate it.
The Bottom Line: See this film, but do so when you’re ready for an emotionally bruising time.
Overall Score: 9.5/10