Published Feb 16, 2007A pall hangs over the new film from Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) a grey, smoggy, industrial grossness that seems part Charles Dickens and part George Orwell. The year is 2027, and the youngest person on Earth has just died - at the age of 18. For unexplained reasons, women stopped being able to have children about two decades earlier; a world without hope for the future has devolved into pitched battles over territory and status between true Briton "haves and refugee "have-nots.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a former activist just wiling away his days when his ex-wife (Julianne Moore) contacts him for help with a young refugee girl (Claire-Hope Ashitey), who just happens to be six months pregnant. Through government check points and ill-intentioned, self-interested activist groups, Theo has to whisk the woman out of the country and into the hands of the Human Project, a sort of Greenpeace (one assumes) for the future of humanity.
Aside from the obvious political and environmental critique inherent in Children of Men (based on the book by P.D. James), theres a compelling combination of urgency and bleakness to Cuaróns vision. Those not on the governments side are not less misguided, necessarily, nor purer of heart and deed; even the guards inside a refugee camp can show moments of tenderness and cruelty both. Its an extremely compelling film to watch even while its disturbing, depressing and dark.
Its careful not to throw too many obviously progressive "digs at what is ostensibly a new fascist Britain (suicide pills, called Quietus, are marketed freely while marijuana remains illegal). It only hints at the fate of other cities around the world, keeping its focus on crumbling Britannia - although Children of Men makes another futuristic British dystopia, V For Vendetta, look like, well, a cartoon.
Clive Owen gives a weighty performance, Michael Caine provides some levity as an off-the-grid pothead and dealer, and Julianne Moore is luminescent as usual, but its the smog and the terribly realistic seeming prospects for our future that haunt you. Children of Men opens December 25. (Universal)