Saturday 8 April 2017

Movie Review: Children Of Men (2006)

A shockingly plausible dystopian vision of the near future, Children Of Men is a stunningly executed drama thriller filled with a grim pessimism and just the faintest spots of human hope.

It's 2027, and the world has descended into anarchy. For unknown reasons all women are infertile, and the last human birth occurred 18 years prior. England is trying to maintain a semblance of civility but is ruled by an authoritarian, anti-immigration regime struggling to contain a terrorist campaign waged by a resistance group calling themselves The Fishes. Former activist turned bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is contacted by his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) for help. She is a leader within the resistance movement, and her group has stumbled upon illegal immigrant Kee, who is shockingly pregnant.

Julian wants Theo to escort Kee to the coast and the safety of a shadowy group known as The Human Project. Despite help from Julian's second-in-command Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), it's quickly apparent that the mission is compromised. Theo and Kee seek refuge with his only friend Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), as the more militant members of the resistance recognize the symbolic value of Kee and decide to exploit her to whip up a full fledged rebellion.

An adaptation of the P.D. James book directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, Children Of Men is masterpiece of despondency. The film stares at a future at once familiar and terrifying, and does not even pretend to offer much belief that things can or will get better. This is a story of people crushed by a combination of environmental and human-made catastrophes, a chilling reminder that there are no inherent guarantees that civilization will always move forward.

Cuarón draws a line under the vision by deploying a distinctive colour palette dominated by depressing greys and sickly green-browns. From the concrete buildings to the dark skies and unhealthy rural landscapes, nature appears to have turned off its happiness mode and imposed a blanket of gloom over England. The people respond in turn with a resigned surrender, the purpose of life no longer clear when life itself can no longer be created.

Working with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and co-editor Alex Rodríguez, Cuarón creates majestic illusions of long single-take scenes. The camera work is fluid, the action choreographed with uncommon artistry. The final, most outstanding seemingly unedited sequence is nothing short of breathtaking, more than 6 minutes of Theo moving through a chaotic battle scene, trying to find Kee as government troops battle the rebels in a grim urban landscape, finally moving into a large building populated by huddled and terrified illegal immigrants trying to survive the mayhem.

Children Of Men is Theo's story, but the reawakening of his activist roots is juxtaposed with a background that tells the broader drama of human wretchedness, raising the question as to whether there is anything worth saving. Kee's pregnancy may be a one-off or a glimmer of light, but the carnage on the streets of London, supposedly still under government control but nevertheless gripped by bombings, the misery of people stacked into cages and the military commanding the streets, asks whether humans deserve a second chance.

Clive Owen delivers one of his finest performances, his weathered face a perfect fit for the downcast government employee reluctantly nudged back into a conflict he very much wanted to leave in his past. Michael Caine adds the only touch of irreverent animation, Jasper Palmer a bit too old to care, living off happier memories and present drugs to see out his tenure.

Children Of Men looks into the human mirror, and finds the meticulous darkness of the soul.

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