Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Children of Men

Children of Men. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron & written by (big breath) Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby.

Preconceptions: I have a vague recollection that some years back, this movie was all the rage in nerd circles. Perhaps I was being contrary, or perhaps I just watched fewer movies back then, but I never got around to checking out Children of Men. I ran into it again and, remembering all the buzz, decided to give it a thorough teeth and hoof inspection (something I usually reserve for the significant others of friends).

General Review: Well...here is another instance of a movie being quite a bit longer than it needed to be. If the movie was indeed a horse I was inspecting, I would be able to comically play the xylophone on its ribs. This is my clever way of saying it had absolutely no meat. For those of you who haven't seen it, we're in the near future (2027) and we're in dystopia again. This time, instead of being chased by mutants/zombies/plague/fog, the human race has lost its ability to breed. The English have taken to throwing refugees in camps and our hero (Clive Owen), has to protect a young refugee woman, at the behest of his ex-wife. Children of Men is a short film idea, that has been thrown on the rack and with bone cracking efficiency, stretched out to past the hour and a half mark. We spend the first half of the movie driving around in Clive Owen's car and the second half running around in a series of dilapidated apartments.

I scoff at the sets, but the visuals were the only thing about this movie worth mentioning. It's been a long while since I saw such believable speculative technology in a flick. The science and technology seem like natural progressions of what we've got now and I could see how they might come to exist. Speaking of natural progression, I also liked the attention to detail in costuming. Characters in their late 40s early 50s were wearing styles similar to those worn now and there were also quite a few aging faces with tattoos and piercings. Unfortunately, much of my enjoyment in the look of the movie was spoiled by my old nemesis, the shake-y camera. There were shots that were clearly done with a dolly but had shakiness added, to spite me, specifically, and make me ill, I can only imagine.

For such an all-star cast, I was also left extremely lukewarm regarding the acting. Yes, there were some clever bits of dialogue that were well pulled off and a few visual gags that worked well (including a quite good slow car chase). Whether it was just a committee written script or the script liberally sprinkled with lackluster acting, I felt nothing towards the characters. Clive Owen was a dull hero with a rough, grizzled outside but was a big sensitive wuss on the inside. After watching him be a tough guy for a half hour, seeing him break down and cry wasn't the surprise it was supposed to be. It was inevitable and left me snorting rather than feeling his loss. The movie certainly wasn't afraid to kill characters off, but in order for that to be successful it needed to make me care about them first. There wasn't a solitary character that I was rooting for.

Children of Men felt like there was a smart script, deeply hidden, in the extremely bland mush. Watching the first few minutes, I was congratulating it for feeding me bits of the world in news snippets and propaganda tapes as we walked through the city. I felt like I was smart for keeping up and that the movie was smart for making me keep up. Moments later Michael Caine blunders on screen and practically shouts the exposition to us. Yes, Michael Caine, I get that no babies are being born and lots of people are being treated badly. Yes, Michael Caine, I see that we're in a dystopia. Thank you, Michael Caine. It was the same with every other glimmer of cleverness the movie presented me with. There were charmingly subtle moments between Owen and Julianne Moore, where you can sense their relationship has been shattered by a great loss. Then every facet of their give and take is explained in a few fumble-handed speeches.

This movie is a sackful of wasted potential. I liked a lot of the directorial choices (puke-o-vision aside) and would be more than willing to check out some of Cuaron's other work. I liked the cast (though given their performances, some of them were real disappointments). I liked the subject matter, there was some real room to look at the way pregnancy and birthing has been fetishized in our culture. Despite having all these things going for it, Children of Men was nothing special. It ran in place and wasted my time. Don't let it waste yours.


  1. While I liked this movie though I can see many of your points. Personally I was gripped by this depressing atmosphere but then again now that I think about it I didn't really get behind any character. Well thought out review, given me a few things to mull over.

  2. Heh, yes that is my gift to you: ruining your movie experience. Go team!

  3. Nothing could ruin my movie experience. Well maybe bees but thats it. I just like hearing other view points. I'm crazy like that.