Review: Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron’s bleak but brilliant film set in a self-destructive future borne of fascist authoritarianism and humanity’s loss of fertility is a damning, uncompromising picture of one possible eventuality. As a picture postcard of what a British National Party-run Britain could be, Cuaron’s film is the perfect antidote to their political and cultural ignorance. The film is deeply affecting, not just in its graphic depiction of violence and a society overrun by narcissism and government indignation, but in its believable view of a future not too distant from our own. Children of Men is a fascinating, original and frightening film that cuts so closely to the bone it actually hurts.

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Clive Owen plays Theo, a working man who has left his activism days behind him. When an old flame (Julianne Moore) arrives with a proposition, he finds himself thrust into a political nightmare. Britain, in the 2020’s is, like every other nation on earth, dying out. Infertility has taken hold. No babies have been born for nearly twenty years and when the youngest man on earth is murdered, the tabloid news has, as you’d expect, nothing better to focus on. Migration has become a thing of the past in the United Kingdom. All non-Brits are holed up in detention camps not unlike Nazi ghettos during World War 2, and random acts of brutality and murder are rife. Theo is tasked to help a refugee escape the country. What he doesn’t know is that a miracle has occurred – the girl is pregnant. However, after Moore’s character is brutally killed by her own people, Theo finds himself trying to escape the police who wrongly believe he’s a cop killer and Moore’s revolutionaries who know and want the baby for political gain.

Cuaron’s film is certainly a take-no-prisoners affair. He cites a future overcome with fear and distrust, and insinuates that God may even be punishing us for our sins by taking away our ability to create life. It’s a world that has lost faith in both God and the political system – which one is worse is not known, but it needn’t be. Cuaron’s London of 2027 is a hell so real it actually feels like it could happen.

Any great science-fiction film takes some form of reality and extenuates it, blows it out of proportion or adds a level unheard of before. The fact it is based in a reality we can all relate to is what makes it believable and attainable. Children Of Men takes very topical political and cultural notions and turns them into the worst case scenario made real. What makes the film so fascinating is its ability to make the future seem very close to home. Cuaron achieves this through quality casting, a documentary photography style and the use of iconic London images such as the aging, dirty red buses parading around the capital. He also utilises newsreels as a grounding for a futuristic England as well as an economical exposition tool.

One particular moment of documentary realism occurs when Theo enters a refugee ghetto that is being attacked by an overzealous security force. With tanks blasting grenades into nearby buildings, bricks and mortar spitting in every direction, Cuaron guides his camera around Theo’s desperate attempts to evade the bombs and enter a building holding the woman he is trying to protect. The camera doesn’t cut away, following Theo across a street, ducking and diving behind broken walls, then into a building with the sound of bullets hitting walls and ricocheting off metal. It’s a fantastic scene that simultaneously puts the audience in Theo’s predicament while maintaining the film’s damning spirit. It reminds me of Spielberg’s opening to Saving Private Ryan – it’s direct, breathtaking, fast-paced, terrifying – in truth, real.

The film is blessed by a commanding performance from Clive Owen. In his transition from doe-eyed ladies man to rugged action hero, Owen displays a level of macho cracking over a surface of fragility. He’s our everyman – an undercurrent of fear and distrust of authority underpinned by a broken heart and a passion to make something of his life. Owen seamlessly allows Theo’s determination to save his own skin become a dedication to protect someone else’s. Like the authenticity of the film, Owen’s hero is born out of the situation and governed by the character’s contempt of the world. What we get is one of Owen’s most commanding and convincing performances.

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Children Of Men is destined to be talked about for generations to come. It’s based on quality source material (the P.D. James novel) and tells the all too real account of man’s possible future. Cuaron’s documentary realism and Owen’s commanding performance give the film a sense of authenticity and in turn a powerful emotional edge that makes this nightmarish and bleak outcome of man’s own evils one hell of a frightening proposition.

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston
Released: 2006 / Genre: Science-fiction / Country: USA/UK / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray
More reviews: Latest | Archive
About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Thomas Reply

    I agree, this could be one of the few films of the early 21st century that are there to stay. Even though it did not do too well at the box office, the images and characters and the dystopian vision lingers. It may well be one of those masterpieces that is only truly appreciated decades after it originally came out. Clive Owen and Julianne Moore in one movie… how many crushes can I endure!

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    Tom Clift Reply

    Fantastic review! The comparison to the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is especially apt; the famed long takes in this film will be rightly talked about for decades to come.

    Personally, my favourite part of this film comes (SPOILERS AHEAD) when Dillon carries the baby out of the building and the soldiers stop firing. It’s an incredible, eerily powerful scene with a fascinating religious quality to it – and the same can be said about the entire film.

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    Paragraph Film Reviews Reply

    Top review, and despite its bleakness this is (as mentioned by all so far) one of the best flicks of the last decade. I remember seeing it in the cinema and walking home with my mate in total silence.

    Not only does it pack a punch but it’s technically superior to 99.999% of films. That ‘uncut’ was scene towards the end… utterly spellbinding!

    Even Cane’s 1-dimensional acting couldn’t ruin this!!!

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    Rodney Reply

    Dan, I agree with you – Children Of Men is destined to remain a film cineasts will talk about for years to come. It’s a spellbinding, haunting, agonising look into a potential future for mankind (although I doubt the inability to reproduce will happen – I think science will fix that little problem should it occur) where society is essentially two classes, filmed in a way that’s so iconic, so mesmerising that you can’t help but remember it. Most of the comments above allude to memories of this film lingering long after viewing – the highest compliment a film can receive, in my opinion. It gets people talking, which is the point.

    Great review – great film.

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    Luke Reply

    Such a fantastic movie! Too bad it got mostly forgotten. You definitely mentioned a visual highlight with that long-term escape from the bombed-up area. I think it’s also important to highlight that newcomer Clare Hope Ashitay was pretty phenomenal as the apocalypse’s miracle birth-bearer.

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    Richard Reply

    Great review of a great movie. Some of the camera work in this movie was just breathtaking. And it was cool to see another convincing dystopian Britain. 🙂

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    Dan Reply

    Cheers for the comments. It is one of those films that gets better every time you see it.

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    Jaccstev Reply

    Children of Men is a truly fantastic film, which has ingredients for everyone. Cuaron’s direction is equally invisible, and flawless. Without resorting to shaky-cam clichés and intentionally degraded cinematography, he achieves a documentary feel – but only when he needs it.

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    amy Reply

    Good stuff here.

    And you know what’s even more frighting about this movie? That just a few years after it, it seems that we’re closer to that scary future.

    I haven’t seen the film in a while, but still sits on my Top 3 – I only remember one light moment in the film, when Kee jokes saying she’s a virgin. LOL

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    rtm Reply

    This is a great sci-fi and one of Clive’s best performances. It’s so bleak and gritty looking that like you said, it’s almost felt too real. It’s not something I’d watch again though.

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    Jaina Reply

    Took the words right out of my mouth. This is a stunning bit of film and just shows how poignant sci-fi films can actually be and that they do and can say something about today’s society and political state.

    It looks beautifully bleak, excellent film and great review.

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