Watching this movie, I had that feeling you get every so often when checking a movie out for the first time. It's 40, 45 minutes in, story is moving along nicely, the characters are interesting, and the setting unique and entertaining, even thought-provoking. So you sit back and think 'Hey, I really like this movie...I hope they don't mess it up.' Well, director Alfonso Cuaron didn't mess it up. This is a gem of a picture, a movie that struggled in theaters but will almost certainly become a cult favorite in the coming years. It's got everything going for it, and as I write this five days after watching it, I like the movie more now than I did right after. How often can you say that?
In the year 2027, the world is slowly crumbling as the remaining population continues to deal with an unexplainable situation that has made the world sterile. A child hasn't been born in 18 years, and the Earth is dying a slow death with no one to step in as the next generation. A somewhat well-to-do government worker, Theo (Clive Owen), is approached by his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who needs help. With the underground movement she's involved with, Julian needs to transport a young black girl, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), out of the country. Still tortured by his past, Theo somewhat unwilling agrees to help, but quickly realizes he's stepped into something bigger. Somehow, some way, Kee is pregnant, and there are some who want to use the teenage girl for personal gain. All that stands in their way is a stubborn, resolute Theo.
I'm going to start by saying more movies should be made this way. Nothing gets sacrificed at the expense of making something else stronger or better. Cuaron establishes this premise and does just enough to let us know as viewers what has happened without going overboard on detail. No reason is given for the world's infertility, and none is really needed. It's happened. Deal with it. There are allusions to the rest of the world being gone, countries destroying themselves through in-fighting and chaos. There are pockets of humanity left, but can they hold out? Who knows for sure, but we know that Great Britain is trudging on, struggling through what the world has become. And in under 2 hours, Cuaron creates this incredible world, a place where England is the country we know, but somehow it isn't. It's recognizable, and at times like a completely different planet.
Having seen a grand total of ONE of his movies, I can say that Cuaron is an incredibly talented director. Lost amid the great story and interesting characters is a beautifully shot, incredible looking movie. In the age of ultra-editing and choppy cuts through everything, he goes against the grain. Several times through the movie, he uses long uncut shots that are hard to fathom. We're talking shots that go on for minutes without a single cut, and not dialogue minutes, action minutes as Owens' Theo walks through downtown, or drives through a forest, or most impressively, maneuvers through a war zone. Cuaron's camera follows the action in these incredible shots that must have been nearly impossible to set up with camera and crew, cast and stuntmen, explosions and gunfire. Ambitious to even tackle or attempt shots like these, the director nails them again and again, especially the finale as Theo and Kee navigate through a war zone, a scene that has to be seen to be believed.
So the movie's all crazy cool camerawork and no heart, right? That would be a big N-O. I loved the cast, from Owens as the star to some great parts that amount to extended cameos. Clive Owens is one of the more underrated stars in movies right now, and on top of that, he's ridiculously cool. His Theo is the perfect anti-hero here, a man thrust into a position he wants nothing to do with but realizes he has to do so. He's dealing with past demons that at times can cripple him, but he must overcome. As for the rest of the cast, Cuaron certainly keeps you on your toes. You never know who or when someone might be dispatched. Moore is solid as Theo's ex-wife, an idealist who wants to right wrongs, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke, Julian's possibly treacherous right hand man, Ashitey as young, pregnant Kee, Danny Huston as a source of Theo's also working in the government, Pam Ferris as a former nurse working as Kee's protector, and Peter Mullan as Syd, a corrupt soldier who will look the other way for some cash.
And then there's a part from somebody called Michael Caine, a favorite here at 'JHP.' I could have sworn Caine was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but maybe I'm confusing movies. Anyways, he at least deserved a nomination. It is a small part over two extended scenes -- maybe 15 or 20 minutes all told -- that shows what that caliber of actor can do with little screen time. He plays Jasper, a hippie, pot-growing friend of Theo's who has come to terms with the end of the world and plans to enjoy his last years on Earth, laws, government and police be damned. It is the type of part that makes you remember a movie for those little touches it adds to make it that much better, even if it is only a little bit. That's this movie. Lots of little things working together to form a gem of a finished product.
Children of Men <---trailer (2006): ****/****