Monday, December 25, 2006

Children of Men - Movie Review

Children of Men 2006

¡Que Viva Mexico! Hide the booze and protect the children, for the Mexican Auteur Revolution is in full swing! After the wonderful showing earlier this year for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel, comes the arrival of the latest flick by our beloved Alfonso Cuarón. “Children of Men” is his fanciful and impeccably directed vision of an apocalyptic future wherein mankind is numbingly counting down to their finale due to a worldwide curse of infertility. Now, while many out there might consider a world absent of children a blessing, this future is one filled with despair, fear, xenophobia and rampant terrorism. Hmmmm. Sounds impossible.

The deliciously talented Clive Owen stars as Theodore Faron, an Orwellian-like drone who lumbers through London’s streets avoiding life as best he can. When the film opens, the world is mourning the death of the youngest person on earth, who at the ripe age of eighteen was idolized as one of the last children in mankind’s recent memory. We find ourselves in a world divided by wars and catch glimpses of a final apocalypse that claimed the lives of most cosmopolitan cities. Only Great Britain seems relatively intact, managing to avoid the worst and closing its borders permanently to any further immigration. Desperate people wander the landscape attempting to avoid deportation for their race or ethnicity.

While Theodore attempts to live his life as peaceably as possible, he manages to find a brief respite from the oppressive urban milieu by escaping to the very secluded country home of his friend, one Jasper Palmer a relic from headier and head trippier days who has managed to protect his ganja toting existence alongside his catatonic wife and faithful canine.

Into this world of catch and grab existence, enter the mysterious underground forces known alternately as “Fish” and believers in a seemingly mythological secret society known as the “The Human Project” who offer dreams of salvation from the approaching apocalypse. Kidnapped in gloomy broad daylight, Theodore is snatched away by the Fish to help aid them in obtaining transport papers for a young woman known only as Kee. Theodore is reunited with his former wife, Julian who seems to hold an important position amongst the Fishes and manages to convince Theodore to help them in their fanciful plot.

Now, by the description of this film one would hardly guess that it contains some of the tautest and most deliriously cinematic set pieces in recent memory. In particular, there are two scenes involving car chases that are sublime in their mounting sense of tension. It is our ultimate praise for Alfonso Cuarón’s talent that one of the scenes involves a car being slowly pushed down a rural road. Hollywood action thrillers can keep their ten thousand mile a minute car chases and shove them up their collective asses after watching this.

While we could bore you with the details of the plot, for which there is precious little, it is the guiding hand of Cuarón that makes this one of the best films of the year. His mastery of the dreaded “Hand Held Camera” technique completely shatters the clumsy technique of amateur hacks such as the director’s of this year’s “Half Nelson” who relied heavily on a similar tactic only to fail completely. Cuarón understands that a hand held camera can add immediacy and a sense of spontaneity if it is used judiciously and actually captures the important moments.

Cuarón is also a very fine director of actors. And with such a talented cast as Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan and Julianne Moore at his disposal, he has a field day. Clive Owen’s star power is undeniable, but it would mean precious little if it were not grounded in his very capable talent. From his breakthrough role in “Croupier” through “Gosford Park” to his Oscar nominated turn in “Closer” – he has established himself as that rarest of breeds: a leading man and talented actor. His hangdog expression is the perfect vehicle for this fish out of water character who must rely on instinct and memory in a world gone to hell, wherein precious little counts.

Michael Caine has been a star for over four decades, and the unlikeliest of leading men. When his career entered the character actor phase, he was more than able to make the switch perfectly, continually racking up the awards and nabbing two Best Supporting Actor Oscars in the process. His ability to ham it up when required is blissfully buckled down in a potentially showy role. As the aged hippie, Jasper he must act as the protector, father figure and symbolic connection to Clive’s previously happier days. He is wonderful to watch.

As the living embodiment of those happier days, Julianne Moore is required little more than the impossible. Capture and contain the essence of a forgotten romance, one so powerful and filled with tragedy that the merest mention of her name sends Clive into painful reveries. Julianne has always been a translucent presence on film, her calm beauty belying her powerful talent. It is a credit to her, once again, that she manages to accomplish so much with such little fanfare.

Danny Huston has been having a wonderful year thus far in a variety of roles. From his terrific role in the very fine “The Proposition”, to his delectable cameo in one of our favorite films of the year, “Marie Antoinette”. Here, as the mysteriously successful aesthete who affords Clive his ticket out of hell, into a deeper hell he is all angles and devilish charm. Cuarón’s sense of style and visual storytelling is evident in his brief scene wherein he greets Clive in a penthouse apartment replete with the damaged remains of Michelangelo’s “David” and Picasso’s “Guernica”. Obvious spoils of the global warfare that brought civilization to a halt, but lived on to enrich his private coffers. Also, the mute slave boy in the corner fills out any further character subtleties you might have missed. Danny, you naughty boy.

And Peter Mullan has a rip roaring time as a pint sized commando whose loyalty and trust can be purchased for a few bob, and turned against you in a heartbeat. We have always admired his particular brand of pluck and were thrilled to see him used so well.

Sadly, the very talented Chiwetel Ejiofor is tossed aside in a less demanding role as one of the mysterious “Fish”. And as Kee, the key to the mystery – young Claire-Hope Ashitey is . . . well, we don’t want to be too unkind to anybody in this otherwise wonderful film . . . but . . . okay, she could benefit from a few brush up courses at RADA. Now, see what you did! You made us besmirch this brilliantly directed film, are you happy now? Assholes.

Children of Men” breaks no new ground on the Science Fiction front. We have seen cluttered gray cityscapes since before “Blade Runner”. This year has already brought another film set in England’s future involving a totalitarian government and secret societies. It was the abysmal “V for Vendetta” which was as lacking in style and grace as this film is chock filled with those envious moments.

Witness the ultimate set piece, where the desperate band of outsiders attempts to escape through a maelstrom of artillery fire. The camera is the character here, revealing the terror, anxiety, fear and desperate hope felt by the central characters and the haggard populace. It is a wonderfully rich cinematic moment. Made more so with its bookend scene found earlier in the film. The revelation of Kee’s physical state is one that could easily have become ridiculous in the hands of a lesser director, but here, Cuarón manages to honestly capture a sense of awe and hope in the middle of desolate landscape of death and fear. It seems that Alfonso Cuarón can do little wrong, and we are eternally grateful he is around to thrill us with the purely visceral reactions that only great moviemaking can bring. Bless you all!

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Based on the novel by P.D. James

Clive Owen as Theodore Faron
Julianne Moore as Julian Taylor
Michael Caine as Jasper Palmer
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke
Charlie Hunnam as Patric
Danny Huston as Nigel
Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee
Peter Mullan as Syd
Pam Ferris as Miriam

Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki
Film Editing by Alfonso Cuarón & Alex Rodríguez
Original Music by John Tavener
Costume Design by Jany Temime
Production Design by Jim Clay & Geoffrey Kirkland
Art Direction by Ray Chan, Paul Inglis, Stuart Rose & Mike Stallion
Set Decoration by Jennifer Williams



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