Classic Film Club: Children of Men (2006)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón.
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Pam Ferris, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Huston.
Run Time: 109 minutes.
Set in a dystopian future Britain (the year 2027) where no child has been born for 18 years, Children of Men stars Clive Owen as Theo, a world weary and cynical former political activist, who is persuaded to help escort a newly fertile woman out of the country and to the safety of a scientific research centre off shore dedicated to curing infertility. Children of Men may just be my favourite ‘action’ film, depending on my mood.
There is just so much going on, alongside all of the action, the film deals with some weighty themes and social issues, without being heavy handed. There are also plenty of references and cross-references for eagle-eyed or astute viewers. The world in which the film is set in is grittily authentic and fantastically realised, to show that the society has descended into chaos. Each view reveals new insights into the film, plus the ambiguity allows people to take many contrasting emotions away from the movie. It is one of those rare pieces of cinema that has something different to say to each viewer. Director Alfonso Cuarón has a varied filmography and no set style, which I really like, and this shows in Children of Men, which is incredibly difficult to pidgeon-hole into a set genre.
It is a modern classic, and transcends genre and classification. If you haven’t seen it, just go and do it now. See how good geek cinema can be, when held up to the likes of The Avengers, or Prometheus. Colour me pretentious, but foreign cinema and foreign film-makers are where it’s at. Hollywood should be ashamed of itself, but that is a rant for another day. The input from foreign film-makers allow us to view the world through a different lens, making Children of Men a unique vision of the future.
Of course all of this intertextuality and deeper meaning would count for nothing if the film was shite, which it isn’t. Obviously it isn’t, or I wouldn’t be reviewing it would I? The plot of the film is tight and tense, and intelligently subverts the standard action tropes (like the mind-blowing tracking shot at the climax and the ‘car chase’), leaving you unable to second guess or leave the edge of your seat. The exploration of a world without hope is insightful and thoughtful, and also holds a mirror up to modern society. This is how action films for ‘grown ups’ should be, and can be, if we bother to care about the art of film-making and not just want wisecracking robots crashing into each other for 90 minutes.
At the heart of every great action film, we have our hero. Generally, Clive Owen seems like a bit of a git to me (his name is Clive, what do you expect?), and Theo is the perfect role to fit his sour personality. There is something Solo-esque about the performance, but it doesn’t feel contrived or forced at any point. Owen is believable as the jaded everyman unwillingly dragged into a situation out of his control. Like everything else in the film, the performance is layered, and there is a real progression to the character that again, doesn’t feel at all contrived. Owen is also ably supported by the likes of Michael Caine (as an aging hippy, and only time farting on screen) and the stand out star of the film, Clare-Hope Ashitey. She plays Kee, the reluctant mother of humanity. Her childish portrayal crackles with a fearlessness rarely seen outside of the odd prodigal child actor. Ashitey would have been in her late teens when the film was made, and this aggressive defiance and vulnerable naivety is an absolute joy to watch, displaying a maturity beyond her years, and bringing an air of natural authenticity to the role. You really are concerned about her and the baby she’s carrying. She inspires hope in not just us, but also Theo.
Technical aspects, such as the brilliant cinematography and set design aside, Children of Men resonates so much with me mostly due to the emotional heart the film shows. Look past the political and religious allegory, and it is a film about the human race. It’s a story about hope. About survival. About human nature.
Children of Men is just one of those films that delivers something completely unexpected, a hidden gem that can easily hold it’s own among Sci-Fi film fanatics, the Academy Big Wigs, and the average cinema-goer alike.
Score: 9 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: Blade Runner, District 9.