An action movie with brains. It was said about The Island, and what they meant was ‘a billion helicopters and a story that will require the average action pleb to use an ounce more of their concentration span to understand the story’. So when another ‘brainy’ film is released, with a sci-fi edge that could easily be trashed by Hollywood, a main star who I don’t particularly like, and the director of a Harry Potter film in control, my cynical brain thought it could well be total and complete pap.
For once I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Children of Men is so far from pap. It’s dark, bleak, gritty and bloody fantastic. It’s set in England, in the year 2027; a world where the last child was born 18 years ago and everything’s gone to pot. A world that is so easily where we are heading at the moment it’s completely unsettling. Gathering up a handful of relevant topics – terrorism / “freedom fighters”, war, governments going bonkers, illegal immigrants and concentration camps – and slipping in the fictional infertility problem, gives a meaty chunk of issues to consider. They should probably have shown it at this week’s Labour conference. As well as looking at our current culture of crapness, it also prompts thoughts about children and the whole purpose to our existence. As in, without kids the human race will come to an end, so what’s the point? One character collects precious artworks and is asked why, since there will be no one left to appreciate them. A sobering though, especially when you implement it now – what if in 80 years’ time there will be no one left to appreciate the wonder of this blog? Chilling.
Then there’s Clive Owen. As a rule, I don’t like him. He always seems to try just a bit too hard to be cool, and has what I consider to be a silly voice. But in this film he’s actually pretty good. He broods. He cries. He looks angry. He shouts. I sort of liked him a lot. An achievement in itself.
And an achievement that must be credited to the control of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. Who is probably the main reason why this film is so great. The direction is absolutely jaw droppingly fantastically brilliant. Every single scene sticks with Owen. There’s no cut away to the baddies mwuha-ha-ha-ing. You only see what Owen sees. You only know what Owen knows. This is the first bout of realism. The second is the thankful decision of Cuaron to abandon the usual action tactic of employing a huge orchestral soundtrack to help the audience feel what they’re supposed. There’s no “this-is-the-action-scene-you-must-be-excited-right-now” music. Instead he employs natural sound effects, either to invoke terror (buildings exploding is a terrifying enough sound) or build tension (like in a clever farmyard scene, where the build up of animal noises signifies the rising tension).
But it’s the ‘action’ pieces where the direction really pays off. A motorcycle vs car chase happens entirely from inside the car (lord knows where the cameraman’s sitting). And the piece-de-resistance is the seven minute continuous shot as Owen stumbles through a war zone. Takes my breath away when you take into consideration how much planning must’ve gone into that shot. Owen ducks behind one pile of rocks, a bunch of extras in the background fall victim to a volley of shots. Owen dances around the camera and ducks round a corner. More extras dash past. A building suddenly explodes. Blood spatters the camera lens. The camera keeps on rolling. Sure, there must be invisible seams somewhere along the shot, but it’s certainly a stunning piece of work that will have you squirming with tension.
I’m not going to go into details about the plot – it’s best if you avoid all other reviews (idiot reviewers sometimes like to ruin films by writing about all the best plot points - of which there are some mightly good ones that I won't divulge). I just command you to watch this film. It gains a point for being far better than expected. Another point for offering a chilling yet believable view of the future. And another for having some stupendous direction. Therefore, raising the bar for 2006, Children of Men gains CF3. Watch it.