Alfonso Cuarón / UK, USA / 2006 / 109 mins
Available on Blu-Ray Mon 5 Nov 2018
As film historian Philip Kemp comments on the new appreciation video attached to this re-release of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, the film was a commercial flop at the time of its debut in cinemas. Perhaps the happy-go-lucky audiences of 2006 were not quite ready for the gritty gristle of the film’s themes or its terrifyingly familiar vision of a London in crisis. Twelve years on, the grizzling effect of years of austerity, unexpected election results and the pervading influence of terrorism mean that this gem of a film may now have found its time.
The story, loosely based on the P D James novel The Children of Men, deals with a world in which humanity has inexplicably lost the ability to reproduce. Our anti-hero is Theo (Clive Owen), a disillusioned former activist who turned to drink after the loss of his son Dylan. When former spouse Julian (Julianne Moore), now the head of rebel outfit The Fishes, contacts him for help in smuggling a highly sensitive and unbelievably important individual out of the country, he finds his world turned even more upside down than it was when a bomb detonated outside his office that morning.
Cuarón is renowned for his ambitious camerawork and Children of Men remains one of his finest achievements. There are plenty of meandering one-take scenes which follow our protagonist around the crumbling UK capital, serving to catapult the viewer into the action and make us really experience Theo’s bleak existence. This is used to astounding effect in several taut set-piece action sequences, including an explosive car chase and a disorientating battle scene. The cinematography is claustrophobically impeccable, threatening to steal the show throughout.
This is backed up by a tight script which proceeds at a commanding pace; events scuttle along quickly enough to incur whiplash and keep our attention rapt withal. Although the overarching tone is fairly grim, in keeping with the thematic and narrative content, there are just enough moments of humour and joy to punctuate the stifling oppression. Meanwhile, wall-to-wall exemplary performances mean we believe every plot turn and line of dialogue as it occurs and is uttered. Michael Caine’s cameo is a particular delight, providing light comic relief tinged with reality.
Taken all together, the film delivers not only a scathing attack on the fragility of human coexistence and a warning salvo of what lies just over the ramparts, but above all a hugely enjoyable and involving cinematic experience. This is what good film looks like when it’s at it’s very best. As for the new release, Kemp’s contribution is joined by a commentary and video essay from critics Bryan Reesman and Kat Ellinger, respectively, along with plenty of archival goodies for connoisseurs of the film to gorge themselves on. A five-star project from start to finish.