I originally reviewed the HD DVD/DVD combo from Universal back in May of last year and if anything my appreciation for this film has grown. So what follows is a reviewers cut of that original review.
Just in his mid forties, Alfonso Cuarón already has an impressive résumé. Working in most parts of the film industry he is making his mark as a visionary director. At the time and with only a few small titles to his name he was picked, some thought foolishly, to helm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), a film (still) widely regarded as the best of the franchise thus far. His upbringing out of the Hollywood system and his refusal to bow to it holds him in high esteem, his films are of that rare breed; thought provoking. With Children of Men, Cuarón takes a look at a not to distant future and dissects it, peeling back the layers of human emotion, our desperation at events beyond our control but with an underlying spirit of 'right'. It is a hard film to watch, not so much because of the subject matter, but due to the way it is presented. It is firmly established as one of my favourite films.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a disillusioned office worker living in the general chaos of Britain in a near future, where women can no longer bare children. Because of his well placed, but estranged brother, he is singled out by a radical terrorist group to escort a girl to the coast. However, when he finds out she is pregnant and that the group wish to use the child for their own political agenda, he becomes an unwitting champion and protector, willing to risk all to see the child safe. Essentially, that is the plot of the film, it is simple but effective. But as I said in the previous paragraph it is the way the story is presented that makes it such a compelling watch.
Cuarón, his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the art and production team have created a world that is at once recognisable and totally alien. Familiar British landmarks are surrounded by an alien landscape of chaos and devastation. It is a dirty world, filled with the rot of a nation that has nothing to live for. A Britain that has declared all foreigners illegal, and enforces that order with military hardness, treating its captives less than animals by caging them; atrocity after atrocity in crimes that would make the Nazi's blush. A Britain with a Government that is as corrupt as the country it governs with radical terror groups coming a close second. And this world is shown for what it is by using a hand held camera (a technique that can both annoy and enthral) and filling the frame with dirt and rot, background GCI is used to create a cityscape to give Blade Runner (1982) a run for its money. Although I hate the phrase, there is a 'documentary realism' to the piece, the world is happening around the central characters, always there, always oppressive, but never central. A periphery world that is full of horror and despair.
The characters are handled well, even though they are somewhat under written and to a point stereotypical. Kudos must go the all the actors involved for producing such memorable performances with very little to work with; Owen, Moore and above all Caine throw enough emotion at the screen that is skilfully driven by Cuarón's direction, that once you begin to care for any of them something tragic happens along to slap you in the face. A sudden and shocking turn of events plunges the film into a different direction; and it is shot with the exact same ambivalence as the backgrounds; once you are drawn into the plight and willing the endeavours, relief and disappointment remain constant bedfellows. The action sequences are not glorified, neither are they skipped over or left off camera for the imagination; rather they just happen. The genuinely shocking death of a main character leads directly into a motor bike chase that is quite breathtaking in its intensity. Gun shots are shown as a fact, there is no ringing surround sound, nor is there any splatter, but rather a nasty act with horrific consequences. The death of a second main character is shot with a long lens, in one continuous shot, with sound to match; it is heartbreaking and cringe worthy to sit through. A lot has been said about the final battle sequence; it is one continuous shot for nigh on ten minutes, it is heart stoppingly intense to watch, as Theo picks his way through the gun torn streets, over rubble, bodies, blood splatter on the camera lens and more. A scene that has to be as close to actually being there as I've ever seen, Cuarón and his team need to be congratulated on such a fine piece of filming.
It is without doubt that this filming style and choice have made the film, since the basic story, simple characters and occasional illogical plotting (just how did the terrorists find the hidden pad before the police anyway?) are nothing without it. As it stands Children of Men towers above its peers as an inventive and compelling piece of story telling and one that deserves full recognition for its excellence.
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