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Children of Men

#284 - Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón, 2006

Almost twenty years after an epidemic has rendered the entire human race infertile, a shiftless everyman is drafted into the search for a cure.

I still consider Children of Men one of my favourite films of the 2000s, but I think this latest viewing marks the one where I'm starting to notice cracks in the storytelling and its attempt at building something meaningful out of a fictional environment that is intended to be meaningless. It's a credit to Cuarón and company that they manage to prioritise visual storytelling more often than possible in trying to build a world living on borrowed time - whether through the proliferation of technology such as mass-produced euthanasia kits or background details such as nihilistic graffiti and abandoned playgrounds. On this viewing, I noticed that when the film does resort to extensive verbal exposition it does come across as awfully clunky, such as one character ruminating to another on Britain's extremely inhumane treatment of international refugees right as a bus full of them drives past. Of course, there are good moments as well - the entire opening scene where a group of people watch a newscast about the death of the world's youngest person sets the tone of the film perfectly despite it being extremely verbal and straightforward. That's without mentioning how heavily the film will lay on its religious subtext at times - having characters respond to the discovery of the film's most important plot point with an exclamation of "Jesus Christ!" is about as subtle as a flying brick. It's one inconsistency that does give me pause about increasing the rating (and I'm also starting to notice more plot holes with each new viewing), but fortunately the film makes up for it in plenty of other areas.

For starters, there's the cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki quite rightly won back-to-back Oscars for skilfully capturing long takes with incredible vivacity, which is definitely enough compensation for not winning for his work here. The rough, quasi-documentarian feel of the film goes hand-in-hand with the extended long takes, which also happen to involve action sequences that last for several uninterrupted minutes and are still extremely impressive almost a decade later. The film's soundtrack is good for the most part - though that choral leitmotif isn't all that great, there are some good songs. The performances are uniformly great - Clive Owen makes for a convincingly downbeat and sardonic protagonist who seems to subvert a lot of heroic clichés as he snarks and struggles through the film's plot, while Michael Caine steals the show as an elderly hippie and former activist. With its solid premise and characters, the film manages to craft a plot that's full of twists and turns and convincingly makes it seem like anyone can die, especially during its elaborate setpieces. Though Gravity may have swept the Oscars (and it is a good film in its own right), I still can't help but think that its winning might have been a bit of a sympathy vote for this win-less Cuarón film, which is still one of the best films of the last ten years and will probably still hold up ten years from now.