review for Children of Men on AllMovie

Children of Men (2006)
by Jason Buchanan review

Conjure up your bleakest vision of the world fallen into an uncontrollable spiral of chaos, add in a grim speculative sci-fi twist, and then watch as those images burn to vivid life in a striking, affecting, and viciously beautiful tale of glimmering hope in a land of terminal despair. The concept may be as thin as a razor, yet it cuts to our most basic fears for the future: humankind has lost the ability to procreate, and when a pregnant London immigrant is discovered by a group of "terrorists," the group takes it upon themselves to smuggle her into the care of a secretive organization working against the government's will to save the human race. A jarring intro effectively pulls the safety net out from under the audience and lets us know how ugly a place the world has truly become, offering an explosive introduction to London circa 2027. A glance at the news shows that the major cities of every nation have all become Baghdad. "The World Has Collapsed" trumpets the television newscast as a sickening flood of death and destruction washes across the screen, and anyone who felt their heart skip a beat on 9/11 will most certainly feel the emotional impact of such a sensationalistic -- but in this fictional universe, entirely valid -- claim.

The race is on to ensure that the first baby to be born in 18 years isn't subjected to the harsh glare of the media circus or the cruel scrutiny of government scientists, and though he may seem a most unlikely hero, dejected alcoholic bureaucrat Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) dutifully assumes the responsibility of escorting the frightened mother-to-be to the mythical "Human Project" in hopes that the scientists there will be able to solve humankind's darkest mystery. Seldom has an onscreen hero been more identifiably human than as portrayed by Owen, and as Theodore takes a shot from the bottle to numb the pain, argues with his activist ex-wife about their tragic past, or shelters his frightened charge as the pair makes their way through a gauntlet of crumbling concrete and gunfire, it's easy for the viewer to sympathize with his pain as well as his determination. Theo isn't a self-righteous savior, but an honest and broken man who simply knows what's at stake with the birth of this "miracle" child. Likewise, the supporting players all turn in exceptional performances -- from Julianne Moore's damaged do-gooder to Chiwetel Ejiofor's misguided "terrorist" leader, and the virtually unrecognizable Charlie Hunnam's dreadlocked, trigger-happy gunman, it's obvious that the cast members have truly invested themselves in their onscreen counterparts. Despite his relative lack of screen time, however, it's screen veteran Michael Caine who truly steals the show as off-the-grid, strawberry-ganja-smoking weed-slinger Jasper Palmer -- an aging neo-hippie who, as Theo's trusted confidante, injects just the right amount of humor and gravity into the proceedings.

While for many filmmakers and screenwriters it can be a daunting task to paint a realistic vision of the future, Alfonso Cuarón works well with his team of scribes to keep things grounded in a reality that is both recognizable and relatable -- no flying cars here, though there are some fancy computer monitors and the automobiles feel just advanced and unreliable enough to make them believable. Despite these minor advances, it truly does feel as if society and technological innovation ground to a halt when humankind discovered that their days on the planet were numbered. Emmanuel Lubezki's exceptional use of fluid, handheld photography places the viewer in the back seat of a car being attacked by terrorists and in the war-torn streets of a refugee camp under attack from the military with documentary-like believability. Lubezki's filming techniques, combined with the smart editing of director Cuarón and Alex Rodriguez, offer a haunting fluidity that serves well to compliment the intensity of the powerful and sometimes jarring material. Subtle but strikingly effective use of computer-generated effects compliments the story well by remaining largely understated, while the affecting use of sound in one key third-act scene provides a moving auditory accompaniment to a pivotal event. The impressive soundtrack features selections from such diverse musical artists as John Lennon, King Crimson, the Kills, and the Libertines, lending the film a timeless urgency that will equally affect viewers both young and old. Still, the commendable technical achievements of the film wouldn't really matter if Children of Men didn't have something truly compelling to say. In addition to challenging the audience's perception of our current reality (what truly constitutes a "terrorist"?) and offering a cautionary glance into a dark future of last-gasp authoritarianism run rampant, Children of Men presents a truly thought-provoking tale told in a remarkably absorbing manner. While some viewers may be put off by the unrelenting despair at the surface level, those with some degree of optimism about humankind's uncertain fate on this planet will discover a remarkably powerful film: one in which darkness belies delicate hope for -- and ultimately in -- humanity.