Children of Men Review

Children of Men is a 2006 sci-fi drama written by Alfonso Cuaron/Timothy J Sexton/David Arata/Mark Fergus/Hawk Ostby and was also directed by Cuaron. The film was a box office bomb, but over the past 11 years has gained a cult following.

Story
The year is 2027 and the human race is completely sterile; not a single child has been born in 18 years. Everything has gone to crap, the governments having resorted to totalitarian tactics.However, former activist Theo has been tasked with escorting a pregnant girl out of the country as fast as he can. This is the last hope for the human race and he's all that stands between us and extinction.

The premise for the story is prime science fiction material; use a disaster involving science to tell a story about humanity and its nature. However, the film doesn't seem to have a lot to say. There are social themes touched upon like totalitarianism, immigrant persecution and poverty, but the filmmakers don't really have anything unique to say. For example, there's a scene where Theo goes to a rich friend for help getting passports. However, that's kind of it. There's no commentary on how the rich are evil or anything like that. The friend's just rich; he helps out Theo and then he's just gone. No commentary. No message. I also don't understand how infertility lead to things like poverty, abuse of government power and an immigrant scare. Why would everybody suddenly turn on each other just because they can't have babies? Why would immigrants be singled out for discrimination? That last one really confuses me; the film gives no explanation for why there's suddenly an influx of immigration hatred and oppression. I think it was because during this time 9/11 had happened relatively recently and the Mexican illegal aliens issue was just getting wound up, so they felt like they had to put in something culturally topical.

The characters, while not exactly likable, are relatable. You understand each character's motivation and you buy the relationship that blooms between Theo and the girl.

The screenplay can be a bit on the nose in terms of exposition; all of it sounds like it was written for the audience to know, rather than coming naturally from the character.

I'd like to give a quick congratulations to the filmmakers on one scene near the end of the film. It's beautifully scored, brilliantly shot and acted and gave me goosebumps. I won't tell you which one it was, but it's worth watching the movie just for that scene.

Technical
The cinematography is entirely handheld, which means the camera is never on a tripod and the shot is never steady. This both works and doesn't work, depending on the scene. When it's an action scene or a scene where something chaotic and stressful is going on, it's appropriate and well used. When it's just a couple of people sitting and talking, however, it's very distracting. There's no reason for it and when the camera's constantly moving it completely breaks the immersion. The average shot length for the film is extremely long and, like the shaky cam, it's both good and bad. And, once again, it helps and hurts in the same areas of the film; when it's an action scene and it follows our heroes through the carnage, it gives us a sense that we're experiencing the intensity and stress at the same time they are. However, when it's a conversation it's just not needed. There's one scene in particular that's completely trained on Theo's face, but he's not even in the conversation. Yes, he is supposed to hear the conversation, but you can demonstrate that without us having to look at him the entire time. Focus on the two people having the conversation and then show a reaction shot of Theo. That's more than get the point across. One good thing I can say about the long shots overall, though, is that they don't draw attention to themselves. It's not like Birdman where the camera is constantly going "Hey, look how stylistic we are! We're doing this all in one take!" It's very subtle about it and I appreciate that.

The color scheme is very grey and dirty. The color grading is grey, the sets are grey, the costumes are mostly grey. Even the girl's yellow dress looks grey, somehow. I know that this is a favorite color for post-apocolyptic movies and it's not necessarily out of place here. If the objective was to portray a dismal, horrible future that absolutely nobody would want to live in, mission accomplished. I actually do like that out of the entire cast, the pregnant girl is one of the only characters to wear color. Yellow not only helps it stands out, but also gives symbolic text to her bringing back life in a dingy, destroyed world.

I know this will sound odd, but I think the acting is a little too subtle. Just as there is such a thing as too over the top, there is such a thing as underdone. For example, when Theo finds out that the girl is pregnant, he just kind of stares at her and says "Jesus Christ". That dialogue is telling me that he's surprised, but the actor's face didn't convince me. If you were in a world where nobody had been pregnant in 18 years, wouldn't your reaction be a little more wide-eyed and over the top? I know mine would be. In trying to make sure that the audience takes this seriously, the director forgot to make the actors act human. We are more expressive in serious or surprising moments, we don't just conform "solemn" in serious times. The actors don't emote enough, is what I'm trying to say.

SPOILER ALERT: The CGI on the newborn baby is awful. You can clearly tell it's computer generated and it doesn't hold up at all.

Summary: Children of Men may not be the best movie in the world, but it does have its moments of storytelling and technical brilliance. While it may not have much under the surface story, that's enjoyable enough (and seriously that part near the end is amazing).

B+

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