Monday, July 11, 2011

The Movie List: Children of Men (2006)

Film: Children of Men
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Oscar Nominations: 3 (Best Cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezski; Best Editing, Alex Rodriguez & Alfonso Cuaron; Best Adapted Screenplay, Alfonso Cuaron & Thomas J. Sexson & David Arata & Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby)

The best sci-fi films are ultimately about the state of humanity: what does it mean to be human? Sure, there could be lots of advanced technology and situations that we can currently only dream of, but these films ask the difficult questions about our existence. Children of Men, a stunning thriller from Alfonso Cuaron, goes deep into the heart of survival, examining a dark future where hope is the only thing left.

The year is 2027, and the world is in a state of disrepair. Women have stopped getting pregnant, and the last child was born 18 years ago. Britain has sealed off its borders, instituting a harsh anti-immigration campaign to prevent a flood of people from entering the country as a result of destruction elsewhere. To make matters worse, that last child, "Baby" Diego, has been murdered. Theo (Clive Owen) finds himself wrapped up with a government-declared terrorist organization run by old friend Julien (Julianne Moore), who are planning on smuggling an illegal immigrant woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to Bristol. But this woman, Kee, holds a major secret that raises the stakes.

Owen gives a phenomenal performance as Theo, all blistering cynicism, fear, and hopelessness before finding a reason to survive. Moore, too, is always a welcome presence, as is a no-nonsense Chiwetel Ejiofor. And especially wonderful is Michael Caine, who plays the pot-smoking, liberal-minded Jasper. He and Owen have several great scenes together, and he steals just about every one of them. However, given the weak Best Actor field in 2006, surely Owen could have slipped in for a nomination.

The film, however, certainly belongs to director Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican auteur behind Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Well, he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, who put forward his best work to date on this film. Saturated in grays, the world they depict is a cold, hopeless place, yet they still manage to create striking images. Most impressive are the several long takes the two employ, especially the expertly choreographed roadside ambush scene. In their capable hands, the film pulls off some truly breathtaking scenes that are visually stunning and emotionally deep.

Children of Men is a very mature sci-fi thriller that asks what happens when our extinction is imminent. This is a powerful film that was criminally underrated upon release.

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