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Dickie Greenleaf Has Seen CHILDREN OF MEN!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. When Harry announced that he was showing CHILDREN OF MEN in Austin on the Monday night after BNAT, it made me cry. I’d already booked my flight out of Austin for late Monday afternoon. I’m dying to see Cuaron’s new film, and so far, the reviews have been strong enough to make it one of the films I’m most looking forward to between now and the end of the year. Here’s longtime AICN spy Dickie Greenleaf with his take on the film:

Hey Harry Saw CHILDREN OF MEN the other day and wanted to weigh in as I was really impressed with it. Alfonso Cuaron returns with an intriguing and unsettling piece of science fiction, set in 2027 Britain. CHILDREN OF MEN represents both a confirmation of this filmmaker’s impressive early promise and firmly establishes him as one of the most interesting directors currently working after the brilliant Mexican road movie Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and by far the best of the Harry Potter adaptations to date with THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. If you’ve seen the trailers or seen the very effective poster campaign (“The future’s a thing of the past”, “The last one to die, please turn out the light”…), you’ll know the basic premise – no child has been born for eighteen years after women were suddenly and mysteriously rendered infertile. It’s a neat idea with which to present a dystopian vision of the future, and this is one rife with paranoia, pessimism and concerns uncomfortably prescient. Adapted from the novel by P.D. James, as a thriller, the film is more intense rather than exciting, but that is no bad thing. It is immediately apparent that the central conceit is not simply going to provide the basis for a derivative, high concept actioner. Though on the surface, it moves like a standard chase movie, almost each and every scene offers pause to consider the ramifications of what a world in this state would be like. And it’s a very grim outlook. The opening section of the film quickly sets a bleak tone, portraying a society unhinged, on the verge of tearing itself apart amidst a sense of hopelessness and resignation. As Clive Owen’s weary protagonist succinctly puts it – “What’s the point? It’s all over in fifty years”. Early scenes show news screens announcing the murder of the youngest person on the planet and the subsequent mourning seems to confirm that this is the beginning of the end. Now, it’s not unusual for dystopian sci-fi to take on the kind of downbeat, apocalyptic tone envisioned here. What sets Cuaron’s film apart is that it attempts to examine the psychological and emotional devastation that a world without children, without youth, would have on its remaining inhabitants. No playing, no laughter, no innocence. Around the halfway mark, Cuaron uses an abandoned school as a temporary safehouse and the idea hits you – all school buildings would be like this. Empty, bombed out shells. No more teaching, no more learning. Long before the last human on Earth perishes, the human mind will already be extinct. Having established the gravity of the situation, a pregnant woman is introduced. How and by whom she has been impregnated is unclear, allowing the film to be read as a religious allegory. And if that sounds somewhat heavy, Cuaron is too gifted a storyteller and his film too lean to ponder such themes in a laborious manner, but instead is just one of several core ideas which are introduced throughout that add real texture. As well as the notion of a divine saviour, issues including immigration, terrorism, civil liberties, race and drugs are interspersed between the drama, which essentially hangs upon the protection of Kee, the pregnant woman played by Claire-Hope Ashitey, from various forces that would seek to use the birth of a child to their own ends. Kee prompts Theo (Owen) out of his apathetic malaise, enlisted by his freedom-fighting ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore) to help guide the young girl through a London that has been transformed into a warzone to the safe care of the Human Project, a mysterious group that will provide solace for both mother and baby. The first thing that should be said about this film is that it is superbly well-crafted. Working with the great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron consistently uses long, single takes which allow the quieter scenes time and space to breathe and lend the action sequences an added real-time intensity. Two sequences particularly stand out; high-speed retreat in a car away from an onslaught from an armed gang in which the camera revolves between the passengers as the threat mounts from all angles, and Theo’s desperate attempt to navigate the bombs and bullets through a war-torn Bexhill that now more closely resembles a crumbling concentration camp, weaving in and out of buildings that are reduced to rubble before our eyes. This may not boast the sheen or scope of the effects-laden spectacles of the summer, but in its own gritty ambitions, is resoundingly spectacular filmmaking. The actors are all very good here. Clive Owen is only really called upon to react to what is happening around him, but he does it convincingly and confirms his ability to carry a picture as a leading man. Julianne Moore is actually in the film for a lot less time than you’d expect but is always a welcome presence. Newcomer Claire Hope-Ashitey is very affecting in the pivotal role of Kee, whilst Michael Caine, Pam Ferris, Peter Mullan, Danny Huston and the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor (who also appeared with Owen earlier this year in Spike Lee’s INSIDE MAN) are all strong in support. Though the film remains serious in intent from beginning to end, it would be remiss not to note the wicked streak of black humour that runs right through. Like all modern sci-fi, there are plentiful cinematic and literary influences that fans will have pleasure picking out, but most apparent of all would be that of Terry Gilliam. Though the low-tech London of Cuaron’s vision is not that far removed from the London of today - a multi-ethnic, over-populated metropolis presided over by ever-more stringent public sanctions - finding credibility in its proximity to the present, there are the few odd touches of the weird and wacky that graced the likes of BRAZIL and 12 MONKEYS, exemplified by Caine’s amusing turn as an aging hippy who questions the thinking of a government that endorses the mass-production of state-supplied suicide kits but still outlaws the smoking of weed, and Huston’s wealthy recluse whose only preoccupation is the collection of famed works of art high above the streets in his post-modern penthouse sanctuary. When Theo asks why he even still bothers, he simply replies with an aloof chuckle “I just don’t think about it.” Unfortunately, the film is not without flaws. As provocative as this material undoubtedly is, if there is an overall message to be gleaned, it gets slightly lost in the maelstrom. This is clearly a foreboding wake-up call and calls into question many of the tenets of modern living – genetic testing, pollution, technology – but how does it all add up? And what should be done? On the one hand it’s commendable to leave things open for the audience to deliberate and discuss, but you don’t get a sense that Cuaron has definitive ideas one way or another, and the film could be seen as posing more questions that it can handle. The narrative can also be confusing at times. The various terrorist cells and refugee groups fighting for territory are not clearly defined, and the coming revolution they speak of seems lacking in purpose or objective. One also questions the larger role of government in this equation – though things have seemingly devolved into a brutal police state, it would have been interesting to consider the remaining men in charge, not too mention those further afield. Though we also see the dwindling state of other capital cities across the world on TV screens and understand that the people of these crumbling nations flee to a Britain that soldiers on, we don’t find out much about what is left of foreign countries and their rulers. So what we have is a rather solipsistic view of the end of the world, a microcosm fuelled by violence and desperation, and because it connects on a primal level, you don’t really ponder this until after the credits roll. But such criticisms seem churlish when you think about what Cuaron has accomplished here; a genuinely interesting and ambitious piece of work that succeeds as both compelling human drama and a thought-provoking future-noir. Certainly, in comparison to so much of the vacuous fare that currently dominates theatres, the film offers an intelligent alternative that deserves to find an audience and remind everyone what real science fiction should be like. And for all the nightmares that Cuaron unleashes on his characters and his audience, the film ends on a note of hope. As the final haunting image fades to black and the cacophony of noise is drowned out, we are left to consider the wonder of perhaps the most joyous sound of all – the laughter of children. Dickie Greenleaf
Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 13, 2006, 5:33 a.m. CST

    First Again?!

    by knightrider

    Not again, surely?!

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 6 a.m. CST

    I don't think the reviewer gets it

    by Monkey Butler

    *MILD SPOILERS* <p> First of all, the religious allegory isn't there in the film. At all. It's referenced (Kee jokes that there wasn't a father, before admitting that it was just a random guy whose name she never knew), and there are certainly a number of Christian images in the film, but I'd say that they're only as a nod to the overly-religious novel on which the film is based. <p> Secondly, I'd say that politically, Cuaron doesn't make an argument either way, but the political torment isn't really the point of the film. The end of the "single take" at Bexhill is pretty evident of Cuaron's point, I think. Dead silence, a baby crying, and then more gunfire. All wrought by the Children of Men. God doesn't come into it. That's also why we never know what the Human Project truly is; it's just some vague image of hope and freedom that technically, we never see realised. <p> I think the whole point is that everything that happens in the film is because of mankind (particularly evident in all the naturalistic imagery in the film - see the deer in the school for example) and we're the ones that can reverse it.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 6:19 a.m. CST

    I agree Monkey Butler

    by teh ran

    I remember Clive Owen's character asking if she knew who the dad was and it was funny for her to respond somewhere along the lines of 'I dunno, it could be one of many' or something like that. There was definately no initmation of 'virgin birth' although I suppose in a society where child birth has ceased I could understand where some audience members could make that connection. In response to some of the films 'flaws' I would urge anyone thinking of going to see this film to just go and don't expect well rounded stories (where the answers are explained to you), when you watch it you will be affected by it and when it ends you will definately still be thinking about it. It's a good film and doesn't feel the need to explain away all the plot points, in fact the conception of the child is almost an irrelevance.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 6:55 a.m. CST

    Wah?

    by DrSurvey

    Britain getting an ace movie before America? What is the world coming to? Next we will find out that nintendo are delaying the release of the Wii and sending all units to the UK!

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 9:17 a.m. CST

    why is this movie not out yet in the US?

    by Windowlicker74

    It's an American movie, isn't it? (american studio at least). I saw this weeks ago here in Belgium

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 9:44 a.m. CST

    the need to explain political torment

    by Evil Hobbit

    isn't there because the film fully focusses on Owen's yourney. *VERY BIG SPOILERS* *VERY BIG SPOILERS* *VERY BIG SPOILERS* From start to finish we stay with Clive. We see the changed world from his perspective. Because of this we don't get extra explanation. He lives in that world, he knows what's going on for most of the time and thus there is no reason for him to rehash all events. In addition the territorial fights at the camp are also new and shocking for him and he is just as amazed and dumbstruck by it as the viewer. Sure he could go and find out what the hell everything ment but that wasn't his goal, it wasn't his mission. His mission was to bring Kee to safity, to the human project and restore a bit of hope in humanity. Everything what happends, happends in the way Ownen sees them and as soon as Owen dies, the film is over. This is why there is no further details about the political points. It's merely a film of a man's journey in a world of tomorrow.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 9:52 a.m. CST

    Best Harry Potter adaptation?

    by King Sweyn Forkbeard

    Whilst POA is probably the best looking cinematic release from the Potterverse so far, as an adaptation of a book it was rancid. Huge chunks of critical narrative were missing, whilst neglecting to cover the origins of the Marauders Map at all was simply criminal. There was a magnificent look to the film, but as a piece of coherent storytelling it was sadly lacking.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 10:07 a.m. CST

    no women producing children? SOunds a lot liek San Fran

    by hatespeech

    Utopias!

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 11:03 a.m. CST

    To be fair...

    by Monkey Butler

    Although I still think that the political context of the film isn't relevant, I do think that it's explained in the film, in snippets of conversations and background detail. MASSIVE SPOILERS!!!!!!! <p> <p> <p> The Fishes are a guerilla/terrorist organisation trying to bring down the authoritarian government, which is the only thing that holds Britain together (kinda V for Vendetta style). They organise the Muslim uprising in the refugee camp both as a way to get to Kee, and to instigate their revolution. If they had Kee, and thus her baby, that would give the revolution legitimacy. Again, all stupid bullshit when all that matters is that people are killing, dying, and, finally, being born.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 11:05 a.m. CST

    And on Harry Potter

    by Monkey Butler

    I haven't seen the fourth one, but the fact that Prisoner of Azkaban had such a great sense of style automatically makes it better than the previous two films, which had plots just as messy, but without any of the great direction.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 11:20 a.m. CST

    This movie kicks ass so hard

    by CuervoJones

    Now that´s good action

  • Nov. 14, 2006, 7 a.m. CST

    It is immediately apparent that the central conceit is

    by Bill Brasky

    ...what a dumbass. Dude, using language like this doesn't make you smart. It just makes you a fucking geek.

  • Jan. 2, 2007, 2:07 a.m. CST

    Bill Brasky, Pot Meet Kettle

    by FlickChick

    "Dude, using language like this doesn't make you smart. It just makes you a fucking geek." Says the jealous, vocabulary-impaired, guy posting on AintitCoolNews.