(Alfonso Cuarón, Japan/UK/USA, 2006)
Miserable future London, 2027, and women are no longer able to have babies. London has become a grey hell-hole, with animated billboards, and terrorist bombs exploding every moment. The news that the youngest person alive, an 18 year old, has been killed, causes much sobbing. Clive Owen's angry, downbeat loser-hero Faron discovers a pregnant woman, and vows to help her. Some baddies chase them.
Children of Men isn't a prediction of what Britain will be like in 20 years time. It's an exaggeration of today's problems. Immigration, terrorism, war, bird flu, even foot and mouth all get a name check. The trouble is, none of them get more than that, as the film speeds through its chase plot. It's all very doomy, but some of the film's fears are long out of date: an attack by a mob of bedraggled New Age Travellers looks like one of John Major's nightmares come to life, and almost makes the Criminal Justice Act seem like a good idea.
It's also one of several a plot holes: there must be more effective ways to assassinate someone than by staging a Crustie mob attack, especially if you live with the person you want to kill. Faron gets caught with a baddie's gun to his head more than once, only for the big villain to command his henchmen to wait, seemingly just so Faron can have a chance to escape. The goal of finding the semi-mythical Human Project, a group of scientists who will help the pregnant girl also seems silly. If the police, government and everyone else in this future world are corrupt and violently evil, why do scientists remain pure and helpful?
Apparently PD James's source novel has some kind of religious message. That's mostly been removed for the film, although the few flashes of it that remain are embarrassing: the hushed awe as the little 'un is paraded before the troops, the Christ like (or possibly Robocop like) suffering of Michael Caine's hippie character Jasper. There also seems to be hints that motherhood keeps the world going round, a sentiment that might be true, but certainly wouldn't mean that the Human Project wouldn't try cloning. The characters all have pet animals, an element that seems to have wandered in from Philip K Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But the real trouble is, the film has nothing to say at all. It throws lots of nasty newsreel type images at you, but treats them as a mere backdrop for its endless chase.
The final section is a drawn-out battle closely patterned after the climax of Saving Private Ryan, but relocated to the bleak city of Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Yes, our director loves Steve. The mix of CGI effects with documentary-style camerawork is still very effective, but it's no longer startling.
Characters are attacked, or hauled about by fascist cops, with no warning, quiet scenes suddenly become violent ones. There's no comic relief, so the whole film unfolds against a medium level tension, with the result that the film is miserable and tense, but never really pays off. It's like being made to stand in drizzle for two hours, or listening to someone moaning without any point. In other words, very English. 6/10
Adrian Horrocks (December 2007)
of the Worlds
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