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The world's youngest citizen has just died at 18, and humankind is facing the likelihood of its own extinction. Set in and around a dystopian London fractious with violence and warring nationalistic sects, Children of Men follows the unexpected discovery of a lone pregnant woman and the desperate journey to deliver her to safety and restore faith for a future beyond those presently on Earth. Written by
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Of all the visions of the future movie audiences have been treated to over the past few years, the world of Children of Men may be the most frightening and allegorically effective yet.
Directed by Alfonso Cauron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and set in 2027 London, the film takes place at a time when the planet is in the grip of an infertility crisis. Societies worldwide have collapsed after no children have been born in almost two decades, and the survivors of the ensuing wars, atrocities and civil breakdowns flee to Britain, which still functions under a harsh regime.
Clive Owen (Closer, Sin City) plays Theo, a former activist now working as a paper-pusher in the Ministry of Energy and downing a large amount of Scotch to get him through the day. He walks to work past terrorist bombings, cages filled with illegal immigrants rounded up by riot police, and piles of garbage littering the London streets. When an old flame and revolutionary, played by Julianne Moore, appears with a request that he use his governmental connections to help her move a refugee girl across the country, he agrees on the basis he be compensated. When he discovers that the girl (Kee, played by Claire-Hope Ashitey) is pregnant, his mission takes on new dimensions.
Cauron and his team of production designers have created what is, perhaps, the most believable vision of the future seen in quite some time. Advanced technology exists side by side with squalor, and is never allowed to steal the audiences attention away from the proceedings for too long. As far as being a realistic portrayal of Britain in twenty years time, the film is light years ahead of last year's disappointing V for Vendetta, which stripped away British iconography and culture and essentially kept London as a rather two-dimensional metaphor for the United States.
As a thriller, the film is blisteringly intense and incredibly effective. From the bomb blast that caps off the opening credits to the frenzied urban warfare sequences that dominate the film's closing thirty minutes, Cauron never lets the film lag. Though it slows down enough to deal with character development and exposition, the film maintains a running intensity as Theo and Kee try to stay one step ahead of terrorists, the police, the army and random opportunists. Several action scenes are shot in continuous takes, and make for compelling and electrifying viewing.
However, the film works as a socio-political drama as well. Though Cauron's two central messages (that immigrants enrich, rather than threaten, Western society, and that the outlook for human survival is dim when operatives on all sides let ideology displace compassion and good judgment) are strongly put, he is never so heavy-handed that they dominate or displace the actual storyline. Similarly, while the film makes numerous metaphorical references to present-day events, they are never so contrived as to derail the narrative.
The film features solid performances from Clive Owen, who is at his rugged, rumpled best, and Julianne Moore. Supporting players also do well: Michael Caine is terrific as Theo's pot-growing hippie friend, the versatile Chiwitel Ejiofor is again in fine form as a revolutionary cell leader, and Pam Ferris is also good as another of Kee's protectors. It is, however, Claire-Hope Ashitey who stands out as the illegal immigrant who may well be humanity's hope for the future.
Children of Men is packed with explosive action, incendiary social commentary and some white-hot performances. As a result, it may well be the best film of the year.
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