He's been making movies for nearly two decades, but no one in America noticed Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron until his critically acclaimed 2001 road trip, sex movie Y Tu Mama Tambien. Unafraid to take on new challenges, Cuaron followed a low-budget indie film filled with adult subject matter with a big-budget kids movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The result was the best Potter film to date. In Children of Men he takes on a completely new challenge: the science fiction story of a dystopian and doomed future where the human race is headed for an early extinction. As always, Cuaron hits it out of the park.
Some time in the early 21st century, women stopped having babies. No one knows why, they just stopped. It's now 2027, science is powerless, governments are in shambles, and society has dissolved into complete anarchy. None of it matters. The suddenly wholly infertile human race will die out in the next sixty or seventy years.
While the rest of the world has collapsed, Britain soldiers on. As the world's only remaining government, the UK is a last bastion of civilization. Or is it? The British government maintains order at great cost. The hordes of refugees struggling to escape the flames engulfing the rest of the world by running to Britain are caged, imprisoned, and killed. The country has become a police state; terrorist bombings are constant and common. Britain soldiers on, but nobody seems all that happy about it.
Not that it matters. Cuaron's film takes a depressed and somber tone right from the outset. The human race has no hope, and mankind lumbers through the streets engaged in the business of daily living knowing that soon it'll all be dust. Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) gets his coffee and goes to work, but like everyone else he's dead inside. The world is only going through the motions of living, and he right along with it until he stumbles on hope.
One of the country's terrorist groups discovers a pregnant woman. She's the first in more than 18 years, and both the government and the terrorists want to control her. Theodore's ex-wife (Julianne Moore) runs the rebels, and turns to him as the only person she knows she can trust, for help in getting the most important person in the world to safety. Their goal is a secret organization called The Human Project, and the rot of Great Britain is in their way.
What's most impressive about Children of Men is the way it so staunchly avoids becoming a traditional thriller. It might have been easy to turn it into just another chase movie, after all that's what I'm describing here. Theodore ends up on the run with the world's only pregnant mother, pursued by the military, the cops, rebel terrorists, and nearly everyone else in god's green creation. But Cuaron refuses to let this turn into a post-apocalyptic rehash of The Fugitive. Instead, the film seems more interested in exploring the consequences of a future in which man is done for, and conversely the effect hope can have on a world and on individuals who are truly and completely hopeless. The film is thoughtful and deeply introspective, even when Theodore is on the run Cuaron never misses and opportunity to explore the consequences of what's going on around him. Children of Men manages to balance the demands of both action and razor sharper intelligence with admirable ability. It does what all great science fiction does: entertains while making you think.
Clive Owen continues to grow as an actor. He seems to get better with every role. This is his finest work here, Theodore's story is one of reawakening. His ex-wife Julian describes the Theodore of 18 years ago as a charmer, but the rumpled man sitting next to her in a beaten up car doesn't resemble it. Yet slowly, when there's hope for a future, that man inside awakens, and Theodore transforms into the person he once was. He's sympathetic and powerful as a character, Clive deserves an Oscar.
Give one to Cuaron while you're at it. Children of Men is another great achievement from him. Is there anything he can't do? With all of Hollywood's loud, laser pistol filled futuristic blockbusters you forget that great science fiction doesn't necessarily need giant freakin robots. The genre is at its best when using a fantasized future to make you consider the cost and course of the present. Children of Men does that, and more. It's not flashy, but it is fresh and effective. Cuaron has done it again.