"Children of Men" was, without a doubt, a must-see film and one of the best to come out in 2006. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron became internationally renowned with the excellent "Y Tu Mama Tambien." He proved that he could work in the big-budget Hollywood system by bringing a dark maturity to "Prisoner of Azkaban", thus helping the Harry Potter franchise grow up just a little. "Children of Men" certainly cements Cuaron's presence as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
Adapted from the novel by P.D. James, "Children of Men" takes place in the year 2027 in a world where no one has given birth in nearly twenty years. With the looming specter of human extinction looming over mankind, the world has gone to Hell. One of the few countries still standing is England, where illegal immigrants flock to safety but only find themselves rounded up like animals. It is a dirtier, more realistic take on a fascist Britain than what was seen in the flashier "V for Vendetta."
Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a former radical who has turned away from his former political views and instead turned to a bottle. He ekes through life with a meager desk job, content to avoid making waves. One of Theo's few pleasures are his meetings with Jasper (Michael Caine), a long-haired hippie and former political cartoonist, who lives in the forest with his catatonic wife. Together, they smoke pot, listen to music, and joke about the depressing state of the world.
One day, Theo is reunited with his estranged ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), still firmly entrenched in the movement that Theo left behind. Julian is leader of a group called, The Fishes, who fight for the rights of the immigrants. Julian charges Theo with the task of safeguarding Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a young refugee and former prostitute who happens to be miraculously pregnant. Along with Kee's midwife, Miriam (Pam Ferris), they must make their way to the sea and deliver the baby to a mysterious group called The Human Project, who may or may not hold the key to humanity's salvation.
"Children of Men" is science fiction stripped down to its barest core. It's back-to-basics sci-fi, far away from the loud, FX-driven schlock like "I, Robot", "The Island", and the "Star Wars" prequels that has defined the genre in recent years. Cuaron and his production team have given us a futuristic, yet realistic, looking world. One that can genuinely exist in a few years. No flying cars, robot man servants, or holographic projectors. Flat-screen televisions are everywhere, even on workplace desktops. They are omnipresent constantly feeding the public only the information the government wants them to hear.
Science fiction wasn't always about battling menacing aliens in a far away galaxy. It was about transplanting the issues of today into a different setting. One can look at the original "Star Trek" as one of the best examples for utilizing sci-fi as a metaphor for issues such as racism and war. "Children of Men" deals with today's hot button topics of immigration and the war on terrorism. Everyday people cross the border, both legally and illegally, into America looking for a better life. Most are arrested and turned away. In the world of "Children of Men", the streets are lined with cages filled with the disheveled riffraff of other counties. Each one treated as if they were less than human. In an obvious nod to today's climate, a prison camp labeled, "Homeland Security", contains numerous prisoners with black hoods over their heads. They are dragged away to meet an unkind fate.
Despite this bleak dystopian future, the movie was filled with moments of humor. I was quite surprised to see just how funny this movie was. Theo being aghast at Kee naming her baby, Froley, had me laughing out loud. Michael Caine's Jasper added a certain charm to the film. It is insinuated that his wife was tortured into her catatonic state, he has every reason to turn away from the world or live an embittered life. Yet, Jasper still finds the humor in something so juvenile as the old "pull my finger" gag. Even when he faces execution, Jasper has one last practical joke to spring on Theo. While my colleague Jason P. Vargo noted the film's theme of trust, I felt the film's theme was hope, above all else. The film doesn't attempt to provide an easy answer, not at all. Just the fact that these people find laughter amidst the grim realities of death and extinction, gives us all a glimmer of hope that things will turn around.
The acting in the film is top notch through and through. It's a testament to Clive Owen's abilities that he can play the hard man action hero in "Sin City" as well as he can play the everyman in "Children of Men." His Theo isn't in any hurry to topple the evil regime of England, he just finds himself in an overwhelming position and does his best. Like the barefoot John McClane, Theo leaps into action at a moment's notice in only socks, then a pair of flip flops. As always, Caine is delightful and brings both gravitas and playfulness to his role. One actor I've felt for awhile was one to watch out for is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Luke. He's also played two very different villains in "Serenity" and "Four Brothers." Along with his turns in "Kinky Boots" and "Inside Man", he's proving himself to be an amazingly versatile actor. Newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey put on a fine performance as well and I choose her as an over-looked candidate for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.
Cuaron throws us right into the middle of the action was a series of action sequences done in long, single takes. I applaud Cuaron for avoiding the migraine inducing rapid editing style that many filmmakers seem to enjoy. The shakiness of the handheld camera work is also put to a minimum. You won't get motion sickness from watching this movie. The best of these uninterrupted takes occurs during the film's climax when Theo races through a prison camp while gunfire and explosions erupt around him. It's as if we've been dropped into the middle of World War II, watching some Allied infantryman running through the bombed out streets of Dresden.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer looks spectacular. The picture is clean and crisp with the film's dark black and gray tones coming off strongly.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with alternate Spanish and French dubbed language tracks. The sound is just as good as the picture. The dialogue is loud and clear while the sound effects boom across the channels.
Possibility of Hope runs nearly half an hour and features interviews with various experts who discuss the real-life topics that could lead to "Children of Men." They talk about immigration, the environment, and economics. It's interesting, if somewhat a bit dry.
The rest of the bonus features are a bit on the shorter side, mostly five to ten minutes.
Comments by Slavoj Zizek is exactly as it's titled. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek gives his thoughts on the film in a short five minute segment.
Under Attack focuses on the numerous long, single takes that are used in the film. Interviews and behind-the-scenes clips show why they were done and how they were shot. Most impressive is the elaborate rigging devised to shoot the car chase sequence.
Theo & Julian discusses the lead characters and what Clive Owen and Julianne Moore brought to the table.
Futuristic Design focuses on the film's production design and how they created realistic, yet tired, looking future. What technologies and settings would advance and what would fall apart in a world without children.
Visual Effects: Creating the Baby is a step-by-step look at the surprising amount of FX needed for the scene where Kee gives birth.
Rounding out the DVD are a trio of short deleted scenes and skippable previews for other Universal releases ("Smokin' Aces", "Good Shepherd", "Heroes").
I just don't know if I can heap enough praise on "Children of Men." If there is any criticism to the film, it's that the script didn't delve deeper into the backstory of the world's infertility or of Theo and Julian's past relationship. While some might have had a problem with this, it didn't bother me. Cuaron wasn't interested in the past, but the here and now of the film. "United 93" and "Children of Men" were my picks for the two best films of 2006. If I were to make a top 10 list for the past decade, "Children of Men" would likely be a strong candidate to place somewhere in the rankings. This is a thought-provoking film full of sharp ideas, drama, and humor.