Tuesday 10 October 2006

Tuesday 10 October 2006
Cert: 15 Duration: 109 minutes
Alfonso Cuaron (based on the novel by P.D James)

CAST: Clive Owen (Theo Faron), Julianne Moore (Julian Taylor), Michael Caine (Jasper), Claire-Hope Ashitey (Kee), Pam Ferris (Miriam), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke), Danny Huston (Nigel), Pete Mullan (Sid), Charlie Hunnam (Marichka), Paul Sharma (Ian) & Jacek Koman (Tomasz)

Britain has a close relationship with dystopian futurism. Since George Orwell's classic 1984, the UK has been the setting for a variety of downbeat futures; from Terry Gilliam's fanciful Brazil to the recent V For Vendetta. Now it's director Alfonso Curaron's turn to shine a murky light on our potential future, in an adaptation of P.D James' novel Children Of Men.

Britain, 2027 A.D. The green and pleasant land is now a grey, polluted shell, home to the last remnants of humanity following a global meltdown born out of an infertility epidemic (no pun intended). For 18 years, no babies have been born; a sad fact that means mankind is on the verge of extinction and the living face a childless world without hope or a sustainable future.

Clive Owen stars as Theo Faron, a former political activist who now works at the Ministry Of Energy. On the day when the youngest human is killed by a disgruntled fan, a world-weary Theo is kidnapped by a terrorist group (the "Fishes") under command of his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), and given a mission that could mean the salvation of the human race... to transport a pregnant girl to off-shore authorities...

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who came to prominence in the West with Y Tu Mamá También, before creating arguably the best Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner Of Azkaban, stays with Britain for another literary adaptation. However, as screenwriter, Cuarón's story contains many alterations to P.D James' source book. In fact, only the concept remains fully intact.

Children Of Men is a bold and intelligent piece of speculative science fiction. There is no shortage of dystopian movies around, but what sets Cuarón's film apart is the attention to detail and determination to craft a compellingly realistic experience.

The calibre of the cast is exemplative of Cuarón's growing stature; Clive Owen is enjoying a resurgence in his career, and here he tackles a character with more humanity and emotional range than we usual see in him. He's a solid actor, although he remains emotionally difficult to form a connection to at times.

The next actor of note is Michael Caine, a screen legend now enjoying the supporting roles that afford him to take some risks, or have some fun. In Children Of Men, Caine plays Jasper; a long-haired recluse living in the middle of a wood with his mute wife. Jasper is a roguish charmer who has seemingly resolved to remain young at heart given the crisis around them. It's a great performance, full of eccentricity and poignancy, with Caine on dazzling form.

Julianne Moore is one of modern cinemas best actresses, and she rarely delivers a bad performance. She's good here as the opinionated activist, although the role isn't big enough to really leave its mark.

The supporting cast are all very good, with nobody giving a bad performance. Young actress Claire-Hope Ashitey is fantatsic as pregnant Kee, Pam Ferris is good as a former mid-wife, even afforded a heart-tugging scene to sink her teeth into. The main antagonist is Chiwetel Ejiofor as rebel terrorist Luke, who once again makes a compelling villain. On the sidelines, Pete Mullan makes an impression in a small role as a prison warden called Sid.

But, this is Alfonso Cuarón's movie every step of the way. No actor can upstage Cuarón's direction, with Children Of Men most notable for its stunning camerawork, cinematography and art direction. The future Britain is perfect; always recognisable despite occassional technical flourishes (the animated advert billboards on buses, etc.) There are also some brilliant scenes of warring citizens and bombed streets.

The suburban dystopia is created with such care and attention that the movie has plausability to spare. Throughout the movie you are fully immersed in this world and, thanks to some "on the shoulder" camerawork, some sequences are particularly immersive.

Two scenes should stick in your memory; firstly, a frightening ambush by terrorists, shot (apparently) in one continuous take. Secondly, another action set-piece choreographed to perfection and filmed in one take with a single camera, as Theo races through the ravaged streets of a refugee internment camp. Both are exemplory cinematic moments that, for my money, cement Cuarón's growing reputation as a filmmaker bordering on genius. The only film that compares to these moments in recent memory was Spielberg's D-Day opening from Saving Private Ryan.

However, for all its technical and artistic achievements, beyond its concept, Children Of Men isn't particularly special. The storyline is quite simplistic, and expectation for a killer twist never materializes. The story pretty much plays out as you'd expect, beyond a few bumps in the track, and the finale is slightly disappointing in its abruptness.

You get the feeling that Cuarón was so enamoured with the concept behind P.D James' book, and its artistic possibilities on-screen, that he forgot to write a story with more turns in its beaten track. There are plenty of political parallels that are enjoyable to pick out, and Children Of Men will certainly spark huge post-movie debate... but, as a story, it's not much more than a generic dystopian road movie, really.

However, despite its storytelling fault, the pro's far outweight the con's. This is high-concept political sci-fi from a visualist on fine form, acted with conviction by a talented cast. For the first hour, you suspect this might be the best film of the year, it's just that the last hour doesn't really go anywhere interesting once the set-up is over.