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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

ModFab On...Children of Men

CHILDREN OF MEN
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Charlie Hunnam, and Michael Caine
Written by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Rated: R for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity

The bleak and brutal vision of Earth's future, presented with jolting detail and surprising sophistication in CHILDREN OF MEN, hits us in our softest psychological spot: the ability to procreate. The film's premise -- that in the future, all of mankind will be rendered sterile -- is never explained in great detail, but the chilling effect of such an idea is palpable. Our ability to have offspring is at the core of humanity's self-worth; it is not too long ago that men measured their worth by their number of children, and women still suffer psychological stress when passing leaving their child-bearing years. Whatever else may or may not work, Children of Men at least has this: a great idea.

It is too bad, then, that the movie surrounding the idea is not equally great. Oh, the execution is professional, the performances suitably austere...but Children of Men lacks an emotional center, a heart, if you will. Enormous chunks of story are left out, a common occurrence in movies with five (five!) screenwriters. And even though Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is a most accomplished director, his stony cold vision here never warms up. In a world where humanity's future is literally on the line, tales need all the blood and soul they can get.

With most nations falling into anarchy, Children of Men brings us to the last bastion of civilization, London -- a city packed with terrified people, teetering on the verge of destruction itself. In the middle of a burgeoning war between natives and refugees, Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) is recruited by a former flame and underground activist, Julian (Julianne Moore), to shepherd contraband to a waiting ship on the British coast. The contents in question, however, are surprising. The world hasn't seen a childbirth in 19 years, and yet suddenly Faron is entrusted with Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a young woman who, inexplicably, is eight months pregnant.

Children of Men follows their journey, which becomes a strange blend of Mad Max and A Room with a View...and yes, it is as weird as that sounds. There are bad guys (Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a rogue insurgent) and good guys (Michael Caine, ripping it up as a joint-smoking academic). And there are some astonishing set pieces, including a jaw-dropping, single-camera run through a war zone shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World). The larger questions, however -- where did Kee come from? How is she pregnant? What has happened to humanity, and why is she immune? -- go undiscussed and unanswered.

Despite this unsatisfying lack of narrative, Children of Men does manage to be entertaining; in fact, the film improves as it proceeds, with a nail-biting final sequence better than any action film this year. Owen remains Hollywood's most underrated leading man, and Caine is infectiously chipper. It's early in the holiday season, which may or may not have a masterpiece waiting to be unveiled; until it is, I'll settle for this good-but-not-great, maddeningly inscrutable piece of suggestive fiction.

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