Unless you’re a sci-fi or Clive Owen fan, Children of Men may not be the movie for you. The dark, cold, unattractive story takes place in 2027 and has a convoluted plot, few interesting characters and only kicks into gear midway through with an action-packed run-for-your-life subplot.
The world as we know it today is completely gone. The youngest person on the planet is 18, and women are now infertile -- with no explanation given for this latter situation. The planet is under siege, and England is the focus of what's happening worldwide as the country is plagued with bomb-throwing radicals, and wandering, poverty-stricken ragamuffins who want the government to make life worth living again.
I'm not sure what director Alfonso Cuaron had in mind when setting up the scenes for Children of Men, adapted from P.D. James' novel, but many of the sequences reminded me of the current uprisings and turmoil in Iraq.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a government bureaucrat, goes through the motions of living but has little concern or emotion about anything. When a bomb explodes near him in London, the blast jars him back to reality, and he's finally had enough of this vacant life. But what can he, only one man against the world, do? Become another faceless member of the angry mobs who spend every hour of their waking life in terrorist activities?
Deciding his next course of action becomes a moot point, for a terrorist group called Fishes kidnaps Theo. The group plots and fights for equal rights for all immigrants, which includes people from all over the world. Theo is jostled around in a van with his kidnappers until he finally arrives at one of their hideouts where he's surprised to discover his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) is the leader of the group. The couple couldn't survive the loss of their only child, but again, that's all we learn about their past together.
Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey
Julian wants Theo to help someone in their group obtain transit papers (an idea borrowed from the classic film Casablanca). Theo is outraged at the extent Julian has gone to contact him. He's not interested in helping or in anything she has to say until he learns the papers are for Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a young black woman who’s expecting a baby.
Michael Caine and Clive Owen
Theo realizes this could be the spindle that turns humanity around again and agrees to the task. His journey takes him to an old friend, Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), a former political cartoonist who lives hidden away in a jungle with his wheelchair-bound wife. Jasper lives like a hippie, smoking pot and listening to music but he's still got some connections as well as a pulse on the current situation. He soon guides Theo in the right direction.
Michael Caine, Pam Ferris and Clive Owen
From this point on, the movie becomes intriguing. Theo is double-crossed by some of the Fishes, and he and Kee are forced to mingle with protesters on a train bound for incarceration. Soon they must fight those same protestors and run for their lives. They come across many different organizations both for and against the government and have problems keeping the baby, after it's birthed, alive and secret. Theo has been stabbed in the back so many times that when he and Kee team up with the Human Project, whose members claim to be looking into the infertility problem, he's still afraid to trust them as well. He also has his suspicions about Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the second in command of an opposition group.
Frankly I found the black/gray look of the film, along with the decay, destruction, despicable people and their situations extremely depressing, which I guess is a plus for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who succeeded in the required look.
It's also annoying not knowing who is a terrorist and the reason any of this happened. Screenwriters Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton could have made a far better movie had the screenplay been more concise and actually explained more of the things we see in the film. I felt like I was watching a movie missing every third page of the script.
I did get caught up in Theo's struggle, and Owen and Caine's great performances kept me hanging in to see the outcome of the film. While I can't recommend this movie to everyone, sci-fi fans will probably enjoy Children of Men.
Photo credits: Jaap Buitendijk / Universal Pictures