Film Review

On The Aisle

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Film review by Tony Macklin

Children of Men

Children of Men is a glorious mess. It’s a Frankenstein monster of a movie. Part sci-fi, part thriller, part action genre, part religious allegory, it flays and lumbers after meaning– sending off occasional sparks of style.

Concocted by director Alfonso Cuaron and screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton, Children of Men is set in London and environs in 2027. Most of the world has been decimated by nuclear war and a flu epidemic. What remains of the world is in vicious anarchy and fascism.

This future is barren; the youngest living human — a male in his late teens — is slain, and no baby has been born on the planet in 18 years. At this point one has to suspend his  disbelief to Ingolstadtian epic proportions.

When it begins, Children of Men focuses on Theo Faron (Clive Owen) who is a mid-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Energy in London. Once an activist, he
is now a near-automoton, dully going through the motions. The only vitality in his life is his old friend Jasper (Michael Caine), an aging, longhaired hippie who lives in a house in the woods.

But Theo’s drab life suddenly is violated and invigorated when he is kidnapped by the Fishes, a terrorist group that is led by Theo’s former lover (Julianne Moore). She and her band want Theo to get papers for a young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to get her to the coast and safe refuge in a Green colony. The young woman’s name is Kee, and the key is that she is preganant. Hallelujah!

The rest of the film is a violent chase movie as Theo desperately tries to get Kee to her appointed destination through thick gunfire and thin plot.

The acting in Children of Men is serviceable. Clive Owen renders one of his better performances as Theo, who constantly has to meet new challenges. Julianne Moore is still trying to make provocative pictures. In 2006 she also appeared in the mediocre Freedomland. In Children of Men she has another
forgettable role.

Chiwetel Ejiofor — an underrated actor – plays Luke, a terrorist leader. If you missed his star performance in Kinky Boots, I suggest renting that
film.

Claire-Hope Ashitey is effective as the young Madonna.

But the actor who gives a performance that outshines all others in Children of Men is Michael Caine as the eccentric Jasper. He is luminous.

Children of Men works best when its style dominates. Director Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) uses hand-held camera and long one-take sequences to special effect. The hand-held cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is gritty and gripping.

The mise en scene (the setting and ambience) by production designers Jim Clay and Geffrey Kirkland is evocative and compelling. As in quality movies, it’s a veritable character in the film. It’s too bad the writing is not up to the style.

Where Children of Men comes close to falling apart is in its superficial and patchwork script.

During a bloody, deadly, devastating siege of a neighborhood and an apartment building, Kee with her baby comes down through the fighters. They stop and stand awe-stricken. Probably at the ludicrous scene they are made to perform.

In another scene, during their escape Kee and Theo — in a Christ-like pose — come upon a ship named Tomorrow. You almost expect Little Orphan Annie to be on deck belting out a song.

If you can keep a straight face at such moments of religious kitsch, you’re a better idealist than I am.

One Comment

Corey Johnson January 13, 2007 at 10:49 pm

In regards to the review of “Children of Men” that Tony Macklin wrote, I have a short response, and a considerably longer one.
Short response: I’m afraid not.
Considerably longer response:
It seems that with this review of “Children of Men,” you ultimately miss the point several times. The error is consistent and troubling. I found the analysis weak. You also committed a cardinal sin in the field of critical review—you’ve potentially spoiled critical points of the film. In regards to some of your critiques of the film, let me set a scenario for you—
It’s 2027. You haven’t seen a baby in, say, 18 years. The world as we know it is doomed because of this. It’s kind of a war-zone. You don’t know what’s going on. You see/hear a crying baby. First, you think you’re crazy, and are completely stricken. Second, you come to realize the reality, and start telling others around you. News in a densely-packed area like that travels fast.
Second Scenario—
It’s still 2027. You’re a soldier. You enter this crazy refugee building and it’s quiet—deathly quiet. You, too, hear the crying of a baby. You also think you’re going crazy. Then you see it. You tell people behind you to stop firing their weapons—nobody in this building is doing anything anyway; they’re too busy looking at the baby. News travels even faster in the military.
Third Scenario—
You’re a “freedom fighter” or “upriser” or “terrorist” or whatever the term may be. You notice the military has stopped attacking. What do you do? Well, you know the rest.
End of Scenarios.
You seem to be missing the reality of the situation. This baby is something completely unprecedented; people are going to be, well, shocked, awed, you know. It’s not a ludicrous or contrived scene at all. And if it is, that’s because life itself is contrived—human reactions tend to be similar across the board, and some things just resonate the same way with everyone.
Also, opinions aside, I couldn’t find much that you actually didn’t like about the film. Two reasons (one of them movie-spoiling, mind you), are nowhere near enough to show us why this movie’s script is “patchwork,” and “superficial.” If you’d like to look at the film as superficial, that’s your prerogative (again, I do realize that this is an *opinion* of a film), but it almost seems that you weren’t watching closely enough. It is not enough to merely say the movie has “thin plot.” *How* is the plot thin? What makes this screenplay so shambled and unworthy? If you’re going to blast something, do it with passion and specific details.
Julianne Moore in a forgettable role? I thought something involving her character (look here as I make an effort not to divulge important plot points to readers) came off as quite memorable, and also very unexpected. I will agree with you on one point–Chiwitel Ejiofor is quite an actor (he was wonderful in Serenity) and delivers a great performance here.
But I digress. With regards to the situation portrayed in the film, you said that one must “suspend his disbelief to Ingolstadtian epic proportions.” Please sir, do not hide behind an allegory so obscure (and poorly constructed [both "Frankenstein" and "The Illuminatus! Trilogy"]) that you shake off your audience’s understanding of your limitations. You don’t get science fiction. Take, for instance, Star Trek or Star Wars. If you cannot accept the fact that there are outrageous aliens living somewhere out there, then there’s a problem. If you can, that’s not “Ingolstadtian epic proportions.” Neither is Children of Men’s premise. How can a dying planet be so challenging to one’s suspension of disbelief? Maybe it’s that the film doesn’t spend its time catering to the obnoxiously prying and the confusedly lost. People can’t have children. That’s it. Move on. Belief suspended. If you spent the duration of the film wondering why and how such a simple and reasonable premise came to be, then you spent your time in a futile quest for the wrong ideas.
This isn’t a movie about the human race dying out because of infertility. This isn’t a religious movie. This isn’t a movie championing science. This isn’t a political movie. It’s a movie about ideology, and how ideologies, left, right, or self-centered, can ruin all of us. Children of Men accomplishes what science fiction has tried to accomplish since its creation—not only does it attempt to show us a world both familiar, yet at the same time completely different from our own, but it also tries to show us something about ourselves now—it tries to get at, reinforce, or reiterate something that, if we don’t know, we should, and with haste. Children of Men is an idea movie—a deep idea movie; a movie that, had you watched it with an open mind to science fiction, or humanity itself, you would have gotten something more out of it.
Let’s look at a movie you actually found worthwhile. Children of Men is what V for Vendetta *should* have been. Sure, if you want your dystopias glitzy, shiny-clean and lacking depth (for all of its amazing visuals, V for Vendetta, at times, lacks substance and emotional maturity), that’s fine, but for the more seeking audience, Children of Men provides a realistic and understandable dystopia. This isn’t some sort of random conspiracy-based Nazi regime, it’s a government born from real fear and real disaster. Theo is what Evey Hammond could have been—a troubled and naive person that is thrown into a much larger world. Ideologies aren’t hidden beneath masks, they’re out in the open so they can mingle and disagree and show that they’re just as violent and oppressive and foolish as the ‘wrong’ they wish to ‘right.’ Children of Men is almost the anti-V, and that’s for the better. In the end, isn’t V just a violent man responsible for killing countless people? His psychopathic eye-for-an-eye justice scheme sounds invigorating, but isn’t it just as wrong as the torture and murder of innocents? Is killing in the name of an idea ever right? Is killing right at all? These are the sorts of things Children of Men tackles. Sometimes it’s necessary to go outside the system (the Human Project) to achieve results. Sometimes destroying the system leaves only anarchy in its place, and that is just worse for a world falling so quickly into despair.
Rambling comparison with V for Vendetta (not so random, because it happens to be on your top ten list) aside, Children of Men is a movie worthy of your further attention. It pains me to see that you missed out on such amazing cinema. You didn’t entirely miss out—you noted the amazing cinematography and production design by Emmanuel Lubezki and Jim Clay/Geffrey Kirkland, respectively, but you, as it seems, glossed over the finer points of the film. I left the theatre profoundly affected by the film’s resonating and well-timed message. Even if you cut away all of the sci-fi elements and story, the message is clear: our attachment to our ideas can (and will) be our downfall. People die in this movie because of stubborn attachment to ideas that no longer work in a changing and dying world. Some hold on to the past (The Ark of the Arts, the fascist government), and others are too busy looking at the future to realize the present is in need of their undivided attention (The Fishes). Both of these ideas are wrong, and the film is the perfect playing ground of the present—two characters steeped in this conflict of attachment must escape its grasp, and to do so, they both must change. Children of Men is a modern classic, and a movie that leaves one thinking for days on end, which makes me wonder if you saw it at all.

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