Sunday, January 07, 2007

REVIEW: Children of Men

Minor Spoilers.

As stylistic mashups go, "Children of Men" sets itself a doozy: The narrative machinations of a "lone hero challenges evil empire" scifi-actioner (think "UltraViolet,") are here transposed into the "body" of a fastidiously-logical, realistic and earthbound "speculative fiction" drama. In other words, while it is indeed the story of a rough-hewn loner (Clive Owen) roped into gaurdianship of what the film stridently avoids calling a "chosen one" against the forces of both a terrorist resistance and a fascist police state of the near future, it all plays out with almost none of the bombast or flair that one would normally expect given the plot summary: Owen's character is defined by his gift for heroic endurance, yes, but he never quite discovers his inner kung-fu master like the usual heroes of this story, and he retains a human being's depressing vulnerability to weaknesses significantly less-impressive than Kryptonite (in this case, a tendency to lose his footwear.)

The setting, loosely-adapted from a book by P.D. James, is a near-flung future where some unexplained/unknown oddity has caused humanity to become infertile. There hasn't been a new baby for 18 years, the world is literally aging into oblivion, and only Britain has managed to survive by turning itself into a xenophobic dictatorship: Cops patrol the streets forcefully-deporting illegal immigrants, corraling them into refugee/concentration camps in big buses labeled "Homeland Security." (MESSAGE!!!!!!!!!!) But open-war with a revolutionary/terrorist organization half-masquerading as a refugee activist group is looming right around the corner, and the citizenry's last desperate hope is a near-legend group of elite scientists called The Human Project said to be working to save us all from some hidden island locale.

Amid the squalor, low-level beaurocrat Theo (Owen) finds himself roped into helping a young "fugee" woman who desperately needs to get out of the country for a rendevousz with The Human Project. The reason? Somehow, she's become pregnant, which makes her an immediate target of both the brutal government and the conniving terrorists, both of whom would likely snatch up a living baby to use as a rallying cry.

As said above, the film is essentially an action movie playing by the physical rules and "tics" of a somber drama. As such, while Theo finds himself having to literally fight his way across the country, the film avoids fisticuffs and weaponry duels in favor of more organic variations: A "car chase" involving a broken-down junker rolling downhill and enemies on foot, or a massive "caught between too armies" battle sequence where the One Man is also the only man without a gun. In addition, a striking number of scenes are filmed as elaborate, extended single-takes; but executed in such a matter-of-fact way that most of them are half-over before you realize your witnessing a remarkably daring work of stunt-shooting.

While it's not, as some critics have jumped to calling it, "the best science fiction film of the new century," (that honor STILL belongs to "Equilibrium"), this is an excellent peice of work from director Alfonso Cuarron. You'll note below that it recieves 9/10 instead of a perfect-10. Sorry, but I had to deduct for the film's sole but extremely visible bit of flat out "gimme a BREAK!" silliness near the end. See it and you'll know what I'm talking about... but the bottom line is, SEE IT.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

7 comments:

Wesley said...

Equilibrium is the best sci-fi flick of the new century? I mean no offense when I say this, Bob, but are you shitting me? I mean sure its a neat and thought provoking little action flick but are you really going far as to call it a greatflick? Dare I say, but Bob I challenge you to defend this postion in a spirited little debate with me.

Bob said...

I really can't find a substantial flaw in "Equilibrium," which while it's excellent is NOT something I can say about "Children of Men" with it's nearly movie-killingly-moronic 'how we got past the soldiers' scene near the end. Seriously, thats one of the WORST moments in a good movie this year, period.

"Equilibrium," on the other hand, has only minor issues of budgetary constraint as detractors in tiny doses. Otherwise, it's a gorgeous-looking movie with a cast any film would kill for plus better action and a smarter screenplay than almost anything else in the genre lately. It's a full-blown masterpeice.

Wesley said...

Well I will have to say I loved the film(I think it is even better than the Matrix) I still think it has several substantial flaws, many of which Kurt Wimmer points out in the commentary. And yes many of these were due to budget and time constraints but the biggest ones have to deal with the major league plot holes in the story like these;

(spolier alert)

How did the Grammatons not know the rebels set up shop within their compound?

Why was Preston not checked for weapons BEFORE he entered the building? I know there was a deleted scene which explained there were metal detectors right before you got to the main Baddie's hallway but cmon how can anyone with half a brain not have the forsight to make sure he was disarmed waaaay before then?
Minor plot holes and mismanaged scenes aside, how do you defend the extra cheesy and manipulative "puppy" scene? Well got to go to work, thanks for your time, man.

Cammo said...

Children of Men is so much better than Equilibrium it is sick. I like Equalibrium as much as the next guy, but it is only a slightly better than average sci-fi action flick. EQ has no new ideas, only making a mish mash of ideas from stories where they are done better (The Matrix, Farenheit 421, 1984...). EQ is a futuristic action film by a guy who has seen and read a lot of the genre, but has no new ideas about it. Children of Men however is so much more than just a combination of tried and true sci-fi cliches. I'm with the critics, Children of Men is easily the best sci-fi film in a great many years. Possibly since Blade Runner.

UncleTim said...

I'd have to agree. Equilibrium is more an action film in a sci-fi setting (with a premise that's inspired from THX-1138 to put it in a diplomatically) while Children of Men creates a less flashy but more palpable future through wonderful detail and a well-thought out and logically dystopic future.

As for what you consider a flaw at the end (SPOILERS here for those who haven't seen it) I actually thought that was also logical and an excellent scene in that it humanized the military we've somewhat feared through the film. What reaction would they have? To arrest an unarmed mother who isn't fighting? To take it away? They aren't the political mentality the fish fight against; they're just average soldiers and people who have never seen a baby in twenty years. They're too shocked to react and as suggested by the soldier crossing himself, moved by what many might consider a miracle. These aren't merciless stormtroopers, they're people, just like the surviving fish (those aren't in on the conspiracy) who have the same reaction. It makes it more than just a good guys / bad guys finale. It's a profound, transcending moment for all of them, not enough to halt the violence for long, but enough for them to get away.

Bob said...

"As for what you consider a flaw at the end (SPOILERS here for those who haven't seen it) I actually thought that was also logical and an excellent scene in that it humanized the military we've somewhat feared through the film.

It works at first. I'm perfectly willing to buy and even be moved by them escaping from that one Fish sniper and the first few soldiers they meet because they're so dumbfounded by the baby...

...But extending into the big, long, slooooowwwwww walk down the corridors and stairs and into the street, and EVERYONE suddenly goes all solemn and lowering their guns, falling to their knees, crossing themselves, clasping those Irish dockworker hats over their hearts, parting as a group to let them by and bowing their heads as though Clive Owen is lugging Baby Simba up to Pride Rock and Elton John is about to hit the loud part of "Circle of Life" at ANY moment... NO. No, no, no, no, NO.

Not in THIS movie, which has just spent it's whole running time proving how stark and realistic and un-stylized and "this is the REAL world" it is. The scene would be perfectly fine if the rest of the film were as blunt, unsubtle and hyppereal as IT is; but thats not the case and it sticks out like a sore thumb. With 06 over, I can safely call it the single worst scene in an otherwise good movie of the year, and in addition the stupidest use of cheeseball Messianic symbolism as well (yes, even including "Superman.")

Khal Drogo said...

Is it any less realistic than the WWI christmas truce of 1914?

The entire film is harsh and "realistic" witht he world spiraling out of control, but that dystopian story is paired against the miracle of birth, new life, hope, ect.

The scene in question offered that miraculous aspect that has been with the film the entire time. It was more than just an appropriate moment it was a necessary one. Children of Men would only be what it is with that moment.