As stylistic mashups go, “Children of Men” sets itself a doozy: The narrative machinations of a “lone hero challenges evil empire” scifi-actioner (think “UltraViolet,”) are here transposed into the “body” of a fastidiously-logical, realistic and earthbound “speculative fiction” drama. In other words, while it is indeed the story of a rough-hewn loner (Clive Owen) roped into gaurdianship of what the film stridently avoids calling a “chosen one” against the forces of both a terrorist resistance and a fascist police state of the near future, it all plays out with almost none of the bombast or flair that one would normally expect given the plot summary: Owen’s character is defined by his gift for heroic endurance, yes, but he never quite discovers his inner kung-fu master like the usual heroes of this story, and he retains a human being’s depressing vulnerability to weaknesses significantly less-impressive than Kryptonite (in this case, a tendency to lose his footwear.)
The setting, loosely-adapted from a book by P.D. James, is a near-flung future where some unexplained/unknown oddity has caused humanity to become infertile. There hasn’t been a new baby for 18 years, the world is literally aging into oblivion, and only Britain has managed to survive by turning itself into a xenophobic dictatorship: Cops patrol the streets forcefully-deporting illegal immigrants, corraling them into refugee/concentration camps in big buses labeled “Homeland Security.” (MESSAGE!!!!!!!!!!) But open-war with a revolutionary/terrorist organization half-masquerading as a refugee activist group is looming right around the corner, and the citizenry’s last desperate hope is a near-legend group of elite scientists called The Human Project said to be working to save us all from some hidden island locale.
Amid the squalor, low-level beaurocrat Theo (Owen) finds himself roped into helping a young “fugee” woman who desperately needs to get out of the country for a rendevousz with The Human Project. The reason? Somehow, she’s become pregnant, which makes her an immediate target of both the brutal government and the conniving terrorists, both of whom would likely snatch up a living baby to use as a rallying cry.
As said above, the film is essentially an action movie playing by the physical rules and “tics” of a somber drama. As such, while Theo finds himself having to literally fight his way across the country, the film avoids fisticuffs and weaponry duels in favor of more organic variations: A “car chase” involving a broken-down junker rolling downhill and enemies on foot, or a massive “caught between too armies” battle sequence where the One Man is also the only man without a gun. In addition, a striking number of scenes are filmed as elaborate, extended single-takes; but executed in such a matter-of-fact way that most of them are half-over before you realize your witnessing a remarkably daring work of stunt-shooting.
While it’s not, as some critics have jumped to calling it, “the best science fiction film of the new century,” (that honor STILL belongs to “Equilibrium”), this is an excellent peice of work from director Alfonso Cuarron. You’ll note below that it recieves 9/10 instead of a perfect-10. Sorry, but I had to deduct for the film’s sole but extremely visible bit of flat out “gimme a BREAK!” silliness near the end. See it and you’ll know what I’m talking about… but the bottom line is, SEE IT.
FINAL RATING: 9/10