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Children of Men
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Best Film of 2006"
5 stars

Put up against the majority of the other highly hyped holiday blockbusters currently dominating movies screens, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” may seem on the surface to be decidedly minor by comparison. It lacks the glitz of “Dreamgirls,” the feel-good ethos of “Rocky Balboa” or “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the historical heft of “Letters From Iwo Jima” or “The Good Shepherd” and the mass appeal of “Charlotte’s Web” or “Night at the Museum.” It features a cast of actors who, while admittedly strong, are anything but movie stars in the audience-drawing sense. To top things off, it tells a story that, when boiled down to its essentials, sounds like a recipe for nothing but unrelieved gloom and despair. In fact, the only chance that a film like this has to stand out from the competition is if it turns out to be better than everything else currently playing. Not only does “Children of Men” achieve that goal, it is the best film of 2006–a staggering work that is simultaneously exciting and thought-provoking and contains a couple of sequences so astounding to behold that they are assured of being racked among the most memorable images ever captured on film.

Based on the novel by P.D. James, “Children of Men” quickly and efficiently transports us to a vision of 2027 Britain in which mankind as we know it is literally on its last legs. For unknown reasons, humans have been unable to reproduce since 2009 and everything has gone to hell as a result–the outside world has fallen into anarchy, illegal aliens who have snuck into the country are being rounded up into camps and suicide pills are being advertised on the tube. Once an activist, Theo (Clive Owen) has become just another burn-out awaiting the inevitable–not even a terrorist bombing fifty feet from where he stands or the sight of a survivor wandering away in a daze carrying her severed arm is enough to jolt him out of his state of lethargy. One day, he is plucked off the streets by members of a revolutionary group known as the fishes and taken to their mysterious leader, who turns out to be Julian(Julianne Moore), Theo’s ex.

She has a proposition for him–she needs him to use his contacts to help her transport Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a young illegal. Theo doesn’t understand what is so special about Kee until she lets him in on her little secret–she is mysteriously and miraculously pregnant. Afraid of what will happen to Kee if her condition is revealed to the authorities–it is unlikely that the vehemently anti-immigrant government will cheerfully announce that an illegal alien may hold the secret to mankind’s survival–Julian is trying to get her to representatives of the Human Project, a group of independent scientists working on a cure for the infertility plague. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that the remainder of the film involves Theo trying to protect Kee and her precious cargo while getting them to the meeting point and rediscovering his humanity in the process.

Taken simply on a technical level, “Children of Men” is a breathtaking experience. Utilizing a series of long tracking shots that impart a tremendous amount of information and detail while propelling the story along, Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have taken ordinary story elements and presented them in such a visually dynamic and distinctive way that it feels as if we are literally seeing them for the first time. Throughout the film, there are a number of bravura sequences–a trip into the woods that turns violent with terrifying speed and a long shot given us the lay of the land of one of the refugee camps–and it climaxes with an extended and seemingly seamless single-camera tour of the camp under violent siege that is simply one of the most unforgettable bits of visual storytelling that I have ever seen. What makes these scenes so astonishing to behold is not just that they are unfathomably complex technical achievements (if you look hard enough, you can see where a couple of cuts were most likely made) but because we are too engrossed in the story to even realize how complicated such scenes must have been to put together. Sound also plays an important part in the proceedings as well–that aforementioned siege is brought to its shattering climax with one simple noise that forces everyone involved to reevaluate everything in an instant. And while most of the trickery is deployed in the service of the story, Cuaron also realizes the importance of tossing in something lighter in order to keep things from getting too gloomy–while I don’t want to give away the details, I can say that fans of Pink Floyd will delight in one particular throwaway gag.

In his previous effort, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Alfonso Cuaron gave us the first entry in that effects-heavy series that felt as if it were inhabited by flesh-and-blood people instead of two-dimensional characters and that gift for allowing the human touch to break through the technique continues here with even stronger results. In his past, Clive Owen has shown himself to be quite effective in icy antihero roles such as the ones he played in “Croupier” and “Sin City” but has been less effective in the more conventionally heroic parts he has tackled in the likes of “King Arthur” and “Derailed.” Here, he is on-screen for virtually every scene and the result a great performance in which he quietly and effectively transforms Theo from the coldest of cold fish into a man determined to once again do something good for a world that may be beyond such things. Backing him up along the way are a gallery of strong supporting turns from the likes of Julianne Moore (who fully develops her outwardly brave, inwardly despairing Julian in a matter of minutes), Chiwetel Ejiofor (who is compelling as an associate of Julian’s with his own particular motives for protecting Kee’s unborn child) and Peter Mullan (absolutely terrifying as a refugee camp guard who is willing to lend a hand for the right price and just as willing to pull that hand away when a better offer comes along). The best of the bunch, however, is Michael Caine, who, hot on the heels of his work in “The Prestige,” comes up with another knockout performance as an aging hippie friend of Theo who still tries to find some good in this world gone wrong–his final scene here is among the very best things that he has ever done on film.

Technically, “Children of Men” is science-fiction but it is the kind of science-fiction that is more concerned with ideas than the visual eye-candy. Alas, as the box-office returns of such recent similar films as “A Scanner Darkly” and “The Fountain” seem to suggest, the particular approach has apparently fallen out of favor with contemporary audiences. It would be a shame if the same fate were to befall this one because it is an amazing work that is either one of the most intellectual action films ever made or one of the most exciting art films ever made. Funny, frightening, thrilling and thoughtful, “Children of Men” is that rare breed of movie that grabs the heart, mind and eye in equal measures. Even if it does get passed over for more conventional entertainments at this time, it hardly matters in the long run because this is one of those rare films that will assuredly be watched, analyzed and discussed long after those other titles fade from memory.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15254&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/24/06 18:12:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/23/14 dr.lao I'm just glad I wasn't depressed when I watched it 5 stars
5/26/14 Richard Brandt Cuaron's nervously roaming camera lends credence to this bleak, bleak world 4 stars
11/18/12 Sean Harrison A great beginning and a great ending, terrible otherwise. 2 stars
10/01/10 bored mom This rips off American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, except it won't give you a brain hemorrhage. 3 stars
6/17/09 Bonny Javo An interesting idea about the future reduced to a pretentious and plodding chase venue. 2 stars
4/24/09 TheGoc Dark but spectaular story of our near possible future if we continue in the wrong direction 5 stars
4/02/09 Pete Snot A technical marvel bereft of any intelligence, useful plot or characters you'd care about. 1 stars
4/02/09 Gorgon Zola A movie that makes it a point to be pointless. A partonizing script and no ending. Awful. 1 stars
1/10/09 Sully I still find it tough to understand what those crazy Brits are saying! 4 stars
11/19/08 David Newell Filmview Magazine says that this has the "stupidest title in motion picture history" 1 stars
10/07/08 Shaun Wallner I did'nt get it. Very Confusing. 2 stars
9/20/08 mr.mike It was....fair. 3 stars
4/21/08 Vineet Doshi Not exactly superb, but a good movie nonethelss. 4 stars
3/22/08 Matt awesome movie, eerily realistic, 1& 2 star raters-you guys are fuckin retarted 5 stars
1/27/08 R.W.Welch Done with great expertise, tho premise is hard to buy. 4 stars
10/31/07 Wake up, people! This is really, sad.. My first serious movie and liek omg it's liek so 'heavy' and 'deep'. i'm smart now, kthxbye 2 stars
10/23/07 Clarence Anyone who gives this film less than five stars is obviously braindead. 5 stars
10/23/07 William Goss A viscerally impressive rendering of an all-too-feasible future. 5 stars
9/13/07 I-K Visually and stylistically gob-smacking, woven through with references subtle and overt. 5 stars
8/28/07 kris A great film, obviously too smart for many here. 5 stars
8/21/07 Double M Technicaly great but flat characters, uninvolving, not THAT deep; didn't make me care. 3 stars
7/07/07 Tom Servo Finally a serious and deep sci-fi film-people with short attention spans beware 5 stars
7/07/07 K. Sear Meandered aimlessly and gave no incentive to care about the outcome. 1 stars
6/26/07 rw this movie blew. not worth the money to rent it. too many unanswered questions. 1 stars
5/29/07 Piz As you can see you'll either love it or hate it. Engaging movie with a flat ending. 4 stars
5/28/07 mb Dark 4 stars
5/25/07 Dan Pointless and confused. 1 stars
5/13/07 Elisa This film sucked 1 stars
5/06/07 Indrid Cold Yet another film enormously influenced by the cinematography of Saving Private Ryan. 4 stars
5/06/07 Tracey Chambers great movie, enuff said 5 stars
5/05/07 Todd Don't let the name fool you, this movie kicks ass. 5 stars
5/05/07 AJ Muller SciFi yes, but the dramatic weight is what gives this movie its power. Astounding. 5 stars
4/28/07 Geraldine Riveting, indeed. I loved this movie. 5 stars
4/23/07 matthew Uninvolving, terrible performances but good cinematography. Not as good as it thinks it is 3 stars
4/17/07 Stevo UK Its not us and our machines that are damaging the planet, its God-awful films like these. 1 stars
4/16/07 Jefenator Best I've seen in years. Pushes the envellope and doesn't mush out like most thrillers do. 5 stars
4/02/07 Monday Morning Better for humans to disappear, the way we're screwing up the planet. 2 stars
3/28/07 Luke My fave of 06 and well on it's way into my personal top movies of all time "pull my finger" 5 stars
3/27/07 action movie fan potetniaaly good, but way too avant garde-often confusing 3 stars
3/20/07 James Dunn Bleak, yes, but ultimately uplifting speculative fiction. Loved it! 5 stars
2/18/07 dmitry Good for the first hour before devolving into ridiculous schmaltz 2 stars
2/15/07 Bruce H An astounding, amazing, thinking persons movie, with a frighteningly real sequence 5 stars
2/08/07 mckrob definitely worth seeing !! 5 stars
2/04/07 Bert Kaplan lots of violence, great if you love blood and guts; a few interesting ideas 2 stars
1/25/07 kris Bitchflaps: what pretentious or derivative about it? Flap your bitch less. 5 stars
1/21/07 drtednelson the action sequences were almost good enough to make me forget that this movie had no "why" 3 stars
1/20/07 Dan F Background was the new of the world we live in - everyman/woman solidly placed at the core 5 stars
1/18/07 jcjs always nice to see Clive...excellent message which will happen if we don't straighten up... 5 stars
1/16/07 daveyt thought ending should've been darker, excellent film anyway. Will watch again for subplot 5 stars
1/14/07 Ben(jo) de Cinema An accomplishment of craft in every aspect. The ambiguity of its end is necessary to theme 4 stars
1/13/07 Tanya Excellent, full of action makes you think about the future 5 stars
1/13/07 Simon Beautifullly, stunningly, gorgeously directed. Sometimes hollow, but still impressive x10. 5 stars
1/12/07 Bitchflaps Horrendously pretentious, derivative and overlong, I almost walked out. 1 stars
1/10/07 biskitboy Masterful execution of a C-grade script. Half-baked. 4 stars
1/09/07 shaun lawton Nothing silly about it. Gripping, realistic, funny, tragic. Best futurist movie I've seen 5 stars
1/09/07 kris A marvel, should be seen in a good cinema. Saw it 3 times. 5 stars
1/08/07 del You're all just repeating one another because someone told you to. Sheep. 3 stars
1/08/07 Gerhard Maier Amazing movie that proves the genius of Cuaron. Watch it on a big screen 5 stars
1/07/07 Jill A really great story just doesn't end like that, Cuaron didn't have the guts to see it thru 3 stars
1/07/07 Todd Wallace Visionary, excellent film. Masterpiece. Politically relevant to today's war crimes. 5 stars
1/07/07 Zee Ryder See it. Then read the book and see it again. Science is dead, what's left? 5 stars
1/07/07 Christine Loved it. But cried a lot. Disgusted by the similarities to the US(what we're doing now) 5 stars
1/06/07 Jeffrey Fantastic, thought provoking and at times touching 5 stars
1/06/07 Dark Enchantress Great movie, very interesting and i could not look away 5 stars
1/06/07 Geoff Best action sequences I have ever seen in film, the theater I was in gave standing ovation 5 stars
1/06/07 Jeramie Clark Good call on the second viewing, every frame provides more depth to the story..AMAZING 5 stars
12/28/06 Tony Jovevski Magnificent, bravura film making. Best sci-fi in two decades. A privelege to sit and watc 5 stars
12/26/06 Ole Man Bourbon Pretty silly plotline, but an involving, active movie. 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 27-Mar-2007



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