13 November 2009

The Decade List: Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men – dir. Alfonso Cuarón

Sometimes a bit of technical prowess is all a film needs to assert itself as a classic. It worked for Battleship Potemkin, and it may as well do the same for Alfonso Cuarón’s marvel of an apocalyptic thriller Children of Men. If you happened to have missed the film in the theatre, you missed quite a lot. The collective efforts of Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the production designers and sound department could never dazzle as much as they should on your home theatre, because what they’ve given us is a pure, exhilarating work of cinema. And the big screen is the only outlet to accommodate their brilliant work.

Based on the dystopian novel by P.D. James, Children of Men opens with news of the murder of the youngest living person in a world where women have mysteriously become infertile. London, and presumably the rest of the world, has become a crippled state of anarchy, fanaticism, terrorism and martial law. As the ordinary hero of the film, Theo (Clive Owen), a former political activist, deals with the impending end of days with a bottle of whiskey before being summoned by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), still fighting the good fight, to escort a young African immigrant named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to something called The Human Project, a group of scientists working in the shadows to find a way to save the human race (which may or may not be just a legend). Kee, of course, has miraculously become pregnant, and Julian’s misgivings toward nearly all of the divisions of power within the country makes her call upon Theo, a politically neutral, generally trustworthy figure to get Kee to The Human Project.

As succinct, intelligent and provocative as the screenplay for Children of Men may be, it functions mainly as a roadmap to its landmarks of mechanical brilliance. Composing much of the film in long takes, Cuarón and Lubezki shape some of the most powerful, invigorating scenes in the history of film. As turgid as that may sound, I don’t think I’m alone in this thought. Children of Men accelerates from the single-take wonder of its opening scene to, at least, five sequences of head-shakingly gallant virtuosity. While the car ambush scene and Clive Owen and Julianne Moore’s ping pong ball trick mid-way through the film will be remembered fondest, Theo and Kee’s descent down the staircase of the dilapidated building in the refugee camp as the Uprising begins brings the technical gusto and narrative excellence to a gut-wrenching conjunction. Again, I pity those of you who only got to experience Children of Men at home; it’s just magical.

With: Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine, Pam Ferris, Peter Mullan, Danny Huston, Charlie Hunnam, Oana Pellea, Ed Westwick
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, based on the novel by P.D. James
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Music: John Tavener
Country of Origin: UK/USA/Japan
US Distributor: Universal Studios

Premiere: 3 September 2006 (Venice Film Festival)
US Premiere: 25 December 2006

Awards: Golden Osella for Outstanding Technical Contribution – Emmanuel Lubezki (Venice Film Festival); Best Cinematography, Best Production Design – Geoffrey Kirkland, Jim Clay, Jennifer Williams (BAFTAs)


FilmDr said...

I fully agree. The long scenes have a subconscious effect of drawing the viewer in, and the length makes them far more believable than they otherwise would be. I especially like the mise en scene of Children of Men. Cuaron seems to have spent his childhood listening to a lot of Pink Floyd.

Samuel Wilson said...

It may be the best action film of the 2000s for exactly the reasons you describe.

Joe said...

I've got some runners-up for the action genre that'll be showing up soon, but none are better than this.

teabag central said...

This is a firm favourite here at teabag central, both with me and the young teabags! I'm please to say this film made be go back and revaluate Michael Caine, I was never a fan until I saw him in this.

Joe said...

Yes, you and the young teabags need to get on the Michael Caine bandwagon. Make Hannah and Her Sisters stop #2.

teabag central said...

I already have Joe. I have realized that at the age of 49 I have been wrong on just about everything. Something Mrs Teabag could have told me nearly 30 years ago!