Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Children of Men

2006, UK/US, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Almost from the first frames, Alfonso Cuarón's new film imagines a Britain that is the antithesis of Blake's "green and pleasant land" (and its attendant mythology), with a dystopian vision of southern England two decades hence. Throughout the film, there's a sense that the joke's on us (or at least the residents of contemporary England), given the implication that the country is already well on its way to the drab, grey, law-and-order outcome depicted here (it's a joke similar to that made, with great wit, at the beginning of the zombie film Shaun of the Dead). There are few corners of resistance remaining in this adaptation of the P.D. James novel that imagines a world twenty years after the human population has become infertile (the absence of children makes dogs and cats even more ubiquitous than is currently the case), but one seemingly ordinary day Theo Faron (Clive Owen) finds himself dragged into an underground movement years after he's abandoned politics.

The narrative force of Cuarón's film is simple and almost overwhelming: once Theo's mission, to safeguard a young woman, is explained to him the film's focus narrows in short order to just his world (though there are a few jarring moments when the camera lingers, briefly, on other events just after he's left the screen). Cuarón employs claustrophobic, sometimes hand-held camerawork to remain at Theo's side at even the most fraught moments (an extraordinary sequence inside a car, with stunt performers coming at the vehicle from all sides, and a visceral scene of battle - virtuoso displays of technique that never distract from the narrative). Now and then, the references to contemporary realities are pointed out a little over-eagerly, but for the most part those resonances are allowed to emerge organically and are all the more powerful for that. Owen is excellent in the thoroughly unglamorous lead role, while his strongest support comes from Michael Caine, riveting in his few scenes as an aging hippy.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States