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CHILDREN OF MEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Claire-Hope Ashitey
Director:  Alfonso Cuaron
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  110 Minutes
Release Date:  March 27, 2007

“Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

Film **

Children of Men is a visually stunning and superbly directed film that is also bleak, depressing and dramatically unsatisfying.  It presents us with a futuristic world to buy into but gives us no real answers.  What happened to civilization?  Why are all women infertile?  There are speculations, but nothing really leading into or out of anything.

As directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the movie is as pessimistic as they come.  The planet has gone up, so to speak, leaving only Britain struggling to get by.  Bombs go off everywhere, but no one knows who’s responsible.  Illegal immigrants are being rounded up, but we’re not sure why.  There hasn’t been a new baby in about 18 years, meaning the human race is seemingly in its last throes.

It’s in this nightmare we meet Theo (Owen), a man who seems to be going through the motions until he is contacted by an old lover, Julian (Moore), with a startling charge:  the safe delivery of a young woman Kee (Ashitey), who is miraculously pregnant.

His goal becomes to get her to The Human Project, although neither he nor us knows exactly who they are or what they do (and I hate to spoil it, but we never find out…just another of the movie’s many unanswered questions).  But it won’t be easy…to terrorist revolutionaries, the baby is a symbol for their struggle.  To the government, the baby is…well, who knows?  To the dying throngs of humanity, it represents hope for the future.

And they live in a world where hope is a rare commodity indeed.  The Oscar nomination this picture received for art direction was well reserved:  Cuaron’s vision is fully realized, detailed, and muscular, and his sense of direction with it is outstanding.  An all out battle in the streets between the terrorists and the law is as masterful as they come, with even the camera lens being flecked with blood as it relentlessly follows the action.  It’s chaos, but controlled enough to create some of last year’s most memorable images.

But it’s all lacking a point to drive it all home.  We don’t know why we’re here.  We don’t know where we’re going.  In the end, we don’t even know if it was all worth it.  Did the world go to pot because of our war on terror?  Global warming?  President Hillary?  Without answers, we’re merely trapped in nihilism for two hours with no light of reason to guide us through.  That’s what I meant by dramatically unsatisfying.

It could have been a vision to behold, but instead it feels more like a trial to endure.  By the time the movie was over, I felt worn-out and depressed, not because I feared humanity was really on such a path, but because I felt like I’d been swindled in a card game.

Visual style is important, but without something to say, it’s like a date with a supermodel who has no personality.  And a personality is what Children of Men sorely lacks.  If we’re expected to fear the future, we should at least have something to hope for.  Fear without hope isn’t my idea of thought-provoking entertainment.  It’s more like watching your house burn down with no way to stop it.

Video ****

Universal delivers one of the year’s most striking anamorphic transfers.  Cuaron’s vision is well served in this crisp, detailed and sharply rendered offering.  Though the color schemes are deliberately muted throughout, the effect is striking and memorable.

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio packs quite a dynamic punch, with everything from deathly quiet stretches to moments of panic where all hell erupts.  Dialogue is clear throughout, even against the bed of tumultuous action and chaos.

Features **

There are some deleted scenes, and a documentary by Cuaron whereby philosophers spew out a lot of dreck about how wonderful the world would be if not for people.  Nice.  There are featurettes on the terrific production design, the action sequences, and the special effects surrounding the baby, plus interviews with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore.

Summary:

There is plenty to praise about Children of Men, but only in the most superficial of terms.  Those seeking a movie to engage deeper parts of the brain will have to find more fertile pastures.

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