Children of Men is a glorious mess. It's a Frankenstein monster of a movie. Part sci-fi, part thriller, part action genre, part religious allegory, it flays and lumbers after meaning-- sending off occasional sparks of style.
Concocted by director Alfonso Cuaron and screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton, Children of Men is set in London and environs in 2027. Most of the world has been decimated by nuclear war and a flu epidemic. What remains of the world is in vicious anarchy and fascism.
This future is barren; the youngest living human -- a male in his late teens -- is slain, and no baby has been born on the planet in 18 years. At this point one has to suspend his disbelief to Ingolstadtian epic proportions.
When it begins, Children of Men focuses on Theo Faron (Clive Owen) who is a mid-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Energy in London. Once an activist, he is now a near-automoton, dully going through the motions. The only vitality in his life is his old friend Jasper (Michael Caine), an aging, longhaired hippie who lives in a house in the woods.
But Theo's drab life suddenly is violated and invigorated when he is kidnapped by the Fishes, a terrorist group that is led by Theo's former lover (Julianne Moore). She and her band want Theo to get papers for a young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to get her to the coast and safe refuge in a Green colony. The young woman's name is Kee, and the key is that she is preganant. Hallelujah!
The rest of the film is a violent chase movie as Theo desperately tries to get Kee to her appointed destination through thick gunfire and thin plot.
The acting in Children of Men is serviceable. Clive Owen renders one of his better performances as Theo, who constantly has to meet new challenges. Julianne Moore is still trying to make provocative pictures. In 2006 she also appeared in the mediocre Freedomland. In Children of Men she has another forgettable role.
Chiwetel Ejiofor -- an underrated actor -- plays Luke, a terrorist leader. If you missed his star performance in Kinky Boots, I suggest renting that film.
Claire-Hope Ashitey is effective as the young Madonna.
But the actor who gives a performance that outshines all others in Children of Men is Michael Caine as the eccentric Jasper. He is luminous.
Children of Men works best when its style dominates. Director Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) uses hand-held camera and long one-take sequences to special effect. The hand-held cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is gritty and gripping.
The mise en scene (the setting and ambience) by production designers Jim Clay and Geffrey Kirkland is evocative and compelling. As in quality movies, it's a veritable character in the film. It's too bad the writing is not up to the style.
Where Children of Men comes close to falling apart is in its superficial and patchwork script.
During a bloody, deadly, devastating siege of a neighborhood and an apartment building, Kee with her baby comes down through the fighters. They stop and stand awe-stricken. Probably at the ludicrous scene they are made to perform.
In another scene, during their escape Kee and Theo -- in a Christ-like pose -- come upon a ship named Tomorrow. You almost expect Little Orphan Annie to be on deck belting out a song.
If you can keep a straight face at such moments of religious kitsch, you're a better idealist than I am.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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