I've had a trip from hell. I type this as I fly back to Austin from Washington Dulles where United Airlines decided that my incredible victory over the 2 1/2 hours of getting through US customs and still being able to make my connection was not to be commended. They cancelled my flight because Chicago hates me and grounded the Austin plane because it was raining there. I spent another 3 or 4 hours spent telling the United Customer Service people that it was not acceptable to stay in Washington, at my own expense, for 2 days before they could put me on another flight. That got all squared away (and while I'm still pissed at United, the Customer Service people were very much involved in getting us all helped... they just took forever). So, I missed the big Fantastic Fest APOCALYPTO screening because of the delay and got about 4 hours of sleep before catching this morning flight (on American).
So, now I'm on my way, the flight is pretty empty and very comfortable. I figured I'd write up my thoughts on Alfonso Cuaron's CHILDREN OF MEN, which was released in the UK last Frida and happily coincided with my trip. I saw it opening night at the Odeon in Leicester Sq., a good 2-3 months before it hits the States.
Anyway, in short: it was fuckin' great.
We haven't seen this sort of science fiction in a while, and we haven't seen it pulled off in an entertaining film in a longer while. The premise is simple. The year is 2027 and we don't have flying cars, hoverboards, androids... this is a completely believable future, which is why it can be viewed as horror/sci-fi. The tech is believable and so is, unfortunately, the level of government restriction. They've had to step in to keep the peace when women started miscarrying and stopped conceiving all together. In nearly 2 decades scientists haven't figured out what is going on. Without a new generation in place humanity seems to be on the brink. People are going crazy. This is the end times.
Here we have riots, terrorist gangs, frightened people everywhere, a focus on closing the boarders, with a 1984-like hunt for any illegals trying to get to the last vestige of civilization, preserved in big cities. This takes place in London. Everywhere else seems to have devolved into a third world country. The images we get in the film will strike all of you as being incredibly familiar. They all look like CNN today, except we're looking at the insurgency war in Iraq and the characters in this movie are looking at their own country.
If you've seen the trailer you know that the thrust of the film is Clive Owen's character escorting a woman that has miraculously grown pregnant, the first pregnancy in over 18 years. What I love about this movie is that in anybody else's hands this story would have focused on the investigation of why she was pregnant, undoubtedly with an evil government or big business plot to kill the child or cover up their big secret that led to the mass sterilization of the world's population.
We never find out why Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) is pregnant, nor do we care. This becomes a chase film really quickly and the pacing is rocketing. It's like a bullet. You have enough character development with Owen and the girl, as well as those around these two, that you are immediately sympathetic. You want the best for these guys, but in this world people are getting picked off left and right. You know no one is safe.
Cuaron shoots the action in the film masterfully. It's wildly inventive, but not retarded. It's very real in every aspect. We are shown it exactly how I would believe I would see it if I was there. We're in the middle of gunfights, riots, etc. Some big action happens off camera that we just catch the beginning of or stumble across the results. Cuaron chooses a few sequences to have extremely long takes as you're running right behind Owen and Ashitey. I'm sure he must have cut, because there were set pieces too big that happen in these 4 or 5 minute long takes... explosions, tanks, weapons fire, dialogue, location changes. If he did cut, he hid them very well.
The supporting cast is great. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine (whom the London Phantom Zoners kept raving about after the movie because it's the first time he hasn't been playing Michael Caine in a long while), Charlie Hunnam, who was great in HOOLIGANS and is totally unrecognizable in this film, and some completely unfamiliar faces are all fantastic. The extras are even good, for god's sake, There's a scene in the third act I won't spoil, but there's so much power to it and it's 3 or 4 dozen extras actually acting for camera and acting well.
The effects work is also top notch. Everything is realistic, including a completely CG character. The only reason I could tell that effect was an effect is because I knew there was no other way to capture what Cuaron did unless he used that tool. I'm trying to be vague throughout this review. The less you know about it the better... hell, if the trailer and promotional campaign hadn't told you there was a pregnant woman in it I would haven't brought it up.
I really liked this movie when I left the theater and the more it's gestated, the more I've really fallen in love with it. There's a message that's not beaten over our heads, it's multi-layered, the character and drama all have important things to say, but it's hidden in a viscerally thrilling and entertaining film. It's movies like CHILDREN OF MEN that make me love what cinema can be.
I really hope PAN'S LABYRINTH and CHILDREN OF MEN are Cuaron and Guillerm Del Toro engaging in friendly competition. If they keep egging each other on like this, we can expect more absolutely brilliant films from them in the coming years. As it is, CHILDREN OF MEN and PAN'S LABYRINTH are two of the best films I've seen in 2006.
I'm also really looking forward to seeing what David Yates does with the new HARRY POTTER film, but seeing a new Cuaron film just makes me want to see him back at Hogwarts. Maybe for 6 or 7, eh?
And here's hoping my connecting flight in Dallas doesn't fuck me over. At least it's driving distance to Austin, that's something...