Children of Men

A filmmaker friend of mine from Boston told me I should see Children of Men and that it was pretty great with a very good story and amazing technical aspects. So once again I bundled everyone up against the one-digit temperatures and we went off to the movies and came home quite impressed. It's a beautifully done movie about a dystopic society and one fragile ray of hope that must be guarded from terrible danger. Clive Owen and Julianne Moore are both wonderful, as is Claire-Hope Ashity as Kee, the aforementioned hope, but Michael Caine steals the show with an utterly charming and heartbreaking performance as Jasper Palmer, a former political cartoonist who now spends his days making a home for his disabled wife and growing a certain herb that's still illegal, despite the fact that the government distributes antidepressants and suicide kits to the citizens. I would have gladly paid the price of my ticket just to see Mr. Caine's performance but luckily for me, I got at least a hundred more minutes of entertainment for my money.

The film is set twenty years from now, eighteen years after every woman on the planet becomes infertile. The world is now a stark, grim place filled with angry, bitter people who know that in a hundred years everyone will be dead. The British television announces that every other country has collapsed into chaos, leaving only Britain to "soldier on." The government responds to the world crisis with extreme xenophobia, rounding up the undesirables and the illegal immigrants (defined as anyone who wasn't born in Britain) in buses and transporting them to ghettos in scenes reminiscent of previous fascist regimes.

Enter Julianne Moore as Julian, an activist who needs help from her ex, Clive Owen as Theo, a depressed and apathetic man with no interest in trying to save the world. Theo reluctantly agrees to help smuggle a woman called Kee to a safe place. As shocking events unfold, he is drawn further and further into a complicated plot and must make some drastic choices about what's important and how much he's willing to sacrifice for the future.

I was interested to see that the film is up for an academy award in editing (director Alfonso Cuarón shares editing credit with Alex Rodriguez) and another in cinematography, something it richly deserves, as there are some amazing shots. There is an ambush scene, very tense and violent that goes on for two and a half minutes and is one long continuous shot. In an age where filmmakers love the jittery feel of rapidly changing shots it's unusual to have such a long scene, but it certainly works as the tension is never relieved by another point of view, it just keeps building until, if you're like me, you're in danger of biting your fingernails off all the way to the elbow. Another very long scene, that I hear took five hours to set up, is a six-minute sequence where Theo is making his way through a raging battle. At one point blood splashes onto the camera and it stays there for a very long time, the little dots adding a surreal, horrific element to an already overwhelmingly grim scene.

Please don't go away thinking Children of Men has nothing to offer but dreariness and woe. There are some very funny parts, including a ridiculous joke that Jasper tells and even during some very suspenseful bits there is humor. One of my absolute favorite parts of the film is the very best chase scene I've ever seen. Believe me I've seen plenty of them, utilizing cabs, boats, horses, Minis and even parkour* but this is the only film I've seen where one party is trying to escape by pushing a car while someone tries to pop the clutch and start the engine and all the pursuers are on foot. It's a lovely blend of hilarity and suspense.

Like a lot of art, Children of Men can be approached on several levels. You can watch it purely as a suspense/action film, thrilling to the explosions and rooting for whichever character you bond with. Or you can watch it and say gosh that really made me think of the terrible things that happened in World War Two, what a great thing we did when we defeated the bad guys. Or you can see correlations to certain current governments and spend time thinking about the ramifications of these parallels and wonder what they'll bring to our own real life future. If you're at all of a philosophical bent I suggest you watch the director's documentary available for free at the Children of Men website. It focuses on several subjects, reality, fear, walls, fever, and hope.

Children of Men is nominated for the best adapted screenplay Oscar and Pan's Labyrinth is also up for a screenplay award; best original screenplay. I would be very pleased if both of these films won in their categories. They're up against some stiff competition including Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed but they're both strong contenders and my hopes remain high.

One-Sentence Review

This week's one-sentence review has once again magically morphed into a multiple sentence review from Paul Muolo who has this to say about the film Lady in the Water, out on DVD, " What to do if you're an apartment manager and you find a water nymph has escaped the pool for the safe confines of that same building manager's apartment because there are wolf-like creatures running after her? You'll have to see M. Night Shylamalan's 'Lady in the Water' to find out. This M. Night flick is a lot better than his recent efforts, but a bit below his two best, 'Unbreakable,' and 'Sixth Sense.'" Have you got a one-sentence review? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.

*For my second favorite chase scene and a demonstration of parkour click this link. There are no wires or special effects used in this excerpt. It's astonishing. The shirtless man is David Belle and scene is cut from a French film released in the US under the name District 13.