CHILDREN OF MEN (director/writer: Alfonso Cuarón; screenwriters: Timothy J. Sexton/David Arata/Hawk Ostby/Mark Fergus/based on the novel by P.D. James; cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki; editors: Alfonso Cuarón/Alex Rodríguez; music: John Tavener; cast: Clive Owen (Theo), Julianne Moore (Julian), Michael Caine (Jasper), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke), Charlie Hunnam (Patric), Danny Huston (Nigel), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Kee), Peter Mullan (Syd), Pam Ferris (Miriam); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Hilary Shor/Marc Abraham/Tony Smith/ Eric Newman/Iain Smith; Universal Pictures; 2006)
“Why this film didn’t receive Oscar recognition for Best Picture, tells you more about the Academy’s shortcomings than this picture’s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mexican writer-director Alfonso Cuarón (“A Little Princess”/”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”/”Great Expectations”/Y Tu Mama Tambien”) helms this dystopian sci-fi thriller set in the near future in Great Britain with a grave sense of urgency and passion. It’s a downbeat but poignant tale for our time, that hides its politics not too subtly behind an action-packed, fantasy and mythology scenario. The five writers of the problematic script (like any work by committee it suffers from compromise and, in this case, the story is also left too trite) loosely base their narrative on the prize-winning 1992 novel by the septuagenarian Baroness, P.D. James. Through the efforts of Cuaron’s risky and well-crafted filmmaking, the solid acting from the ensemble cast, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubetzki’s stunning moody atmospheric photography and editor Alex Rodriguez’s ability to keep the narrative lucid, it is able to overcome its script’s shortcomings to deliver a harrowing and creditable visionary tale of a world overcome by terrorism and a Britain bogged down in a police state, an Orwellian sense of doom and experiencing violent mob anarchy. Its agenda includes making points about the pitfalls of current society as much as throwing out a cautionary warning about what dangers lie ahead if we don’t reverse the wrong course we’re currently on.

It’s set in a bleak Britain, in 2027, of littered streets, barking stray dogs, angry mobs and bombings. Britain, like the rest of the world, has a mysterious fertility problem, as the last child was born 18 years ago, leaving the world with the possibility that there’s no future possible. The world, except for Britain, is in complete ruins because of terrorism and a host of other problems it never dealt with in time, such as environmental ones. Britain has tried to curb terrorism by enforcing martial law through The Department of Homeland Security and has ordered the militarized police to arrest all illegal immigrants and send them to a fortified compound at Bexhill-on-Sea. It also demonizes any dissidents (some fight back in armed underground militias like the Fish, a rebel outfit of guerrilla refugees (or ‘fugees’) fighting for the rights of illegal immigrants in the most brutal way possible and determined to bring the government down). Most former radicals have given up the struggle like the old pot-smoking hippie Jasper (Michael Caine) living hidden in the woods while others like Jasper’s former radical pal Theo Fearon (Clive Owen), a low-ranking office worker at the Ministry of Energy, lead quiet and unassuming lives.

Out of the blue, Theo’s contacted by his former lover Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), now a leader of the most wanted terrorist Fish gang, who urges him to use his contacts to cut through the government red tape so that transit documents can be provided for a young black ‘fugee woman named Kee (Claire Hope-Ashitey). Theo is initially reluctant to get involved, but he does it at first either for the money or to get together again with Julian. Later when he meets the pregnant Kee, he clearly does it to save the world. The heart of the film is to see whether he can get Kee to the Promised Land, on a utopian ship that operates mysteriously as the Human Project. The ship, part of no country, is seen as the only sane sanctuary left in the world.

There are magnificent mind-boggling scenes throughout, such as the very real and scary Fleet Street terror bombing, a fierce bloody car chase with one of the stars surprisingly getting killed off, a James Bond-like chase with the heroes cradling a newborn baby through a hellish ‘fugee prison camp and through an urban free-fire zone with the police battling the mob and the Fish gang. The survival of the baby is linked to mankind given another chance to redeem itself after screwing up the world the last time around (a sort of working around of Christian motifs to say a new mythology is now in order).

It targets the pessimism that has overtaken most people in the world, who believe that the future is indeed bleak for their children and that both the Muslim terrorists and Bush’s so-called War on Terrorism have only made things worse. In the guise of a cinema verité styled thriller, this energetic film points out a few more inconvenient truths than even Al Gore’s scientifically fact-based documentary of An Inconvenient Truth was able to and, for that matter, more than any other film this year. Why this film didn’t receive Oscar recognition for Best Picture, tells you more about the Academy’s shortcomings than this picture’s.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”