Raw Power and Long Takes
Last year was a pretty bad year for the movies. While there were some very good ones, I was disappointed that I had not seen at least one film that I would give my highest rating to. I had heard of a new film from Alfonso Cuarón whose most mainstream success was the third (and best) Harry Potter movie. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that this would be the person who would co-write and direct Children of Men, easily the best and most powerful film of 2006, just now going into wider release.
In the near future (2027 we are told) infertility has ravaged the planet--no one can procreate. It has been 18 years since the last human birth, and that person has just been killed. With the human race at death’s door, society has collapsed into chaos. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) seems content to keep to himself and not get involved. When contacted by old flame Julian (Julianne Moore), Theo reluctantly agrees to help transport the young girl Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), who turns out to have the answer to the world’s dilemma--an unborn child.
Children of Men was shot using a hand-held camera for the entirety of the running length. Despite the fact that I typically hate this choice of cinematography, it plays very well here. The camera follows Theo around practically becoming a character in itself, as if it were a documentary. This is reinforced by the very elaborate action setups that play out around the actors often for many minutes between edits. It’s impressive (especially later when the characters enter a war zone), and make the proceedings feel very real.
There is also a powerful emotional core that anchors you to the characters. Theo is the protagonist, and we witness his change as he goes from aloof worker drone to a very involved, weaponless action hero. He knows how high the stakes are, and is obsessed with getting Kee to The Human Project, which could save humanity from extinction. Owen (Inside Man) plays Theo to perfection, as we see the gamut of emotions that play out across his craggy face.
I also liked the risks the movie takes on the story level. We all know that some twists are coming to end Acts I and II, but I was startled both times at what transpired. The second twist is especially shocking, immediately upping the ante for all involved. This is an excellently constructed story, and at 100 minutes, is just the right length.
Children of Men slowly tightens its grip around you and doesn’t relent until the final credits roll. It’s well constructed, expertly acted, and emotionally stunning. There is a sequence toward the end of this film that is so powerful and profound, it became a transcendent experience and had me in tears. It’s that kind of movie, and it gets my highest rating.