There is no doubt about it, Children of Men is one of last year’s best pieces of filmmaking. The long takes which have been so raved about live up to their billing. Eschewing the gliding Steadicam, director Alfonso Cuarón and d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki opt for the rough handheld.
From the very opening shot, which suspiciously doesn’t cut as Clive Owen’s Theo walks from interior to exterior (to give you the same shock his character gets). After that first time the trick is pulled, I held my breath every time a shot went long. I know these shots must be augmented with effects, but damned if I can see the seams.
Where I do see the seams is the last stages of this hopeful tale set in a dystopian Britain. In a world where human fertility is a fading memory, hope comes in the form of an African refugee with a swollen belly, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey, the weakest link in a movie with fine acting). Kee’s fertility could save humanity, but an authoritarian government and rebel revolutionaries would rather use her for their own political purposes. Theo, a drunk who is haunted by memories of his dead son Dylan, becomes the reluctant and unlikely hero who will smuggle Kee out of Britain to a top secret cabal of scientists known as The Human Project, which may or may not even exist.
With help from friends like aging hippy Jasper (a wonderful Michael Caine), ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) and Minister of Culture Nigel (Danny Huston), Theo manages to stay a stay ahead of the vying factions. Despite the appearance that the movie is one long chase sequence, it does stop to ponder the parallels between Kee and the Christian Mary, and the horrors of government-sponsored suicide.
Cuarón, with help from friends Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby has crafted an efficient and (apparently) radically different story from the P.D. James novel of the same name. The script isn’t perfect. It hits the dead baby button a few too many times, and its message of hope becomes garbled in the end. The final scene doesn’t come off, mostly because of the acting ability mismatch between the scene partners. Nonetheless, Children of Men is full of characters and events that are hard to shake, and a brilliant technical achievement in filmmaking to boot.
As per comments, fxguide podcast interview with effects artists from Framestore CFC and Double Negative