Three of the best films made this year came from directors who hailed from Mexico. Dubbed “The Three Amigos” by film editor for The Hollywood Reporter, Anne Thompson, Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) have made films that have reset the bar for filmmakers in this country, and maybe opened doors for foreign directors who are willing to take chances American directors can’t or won’t take.
Children of Men is a strange and exhilarating look into our potentially bleak future. If we continue to live the way we are, there is a good chance we will obliterate ourselves. Based on a P.D. James novel, Cuaron’s film, which he adapted and directed, stars Clive Owen as Theo, the man put in charge of no less than saving humanity.
He is thrust into the position by his ex-wife, played by a toughened up Julianne Moore, who is part of a rebellious underground. In her charge, the only pregnant woman in England, maybe in the world. They don’t know. What the world around them does know is that babies don’t exist anymore. People don’t have babies anymore. Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) doesn’t know who the father is; her pregnancy was entirely accidental. But Theo has to get her out of England and to a place where she can live in peace and help start future generations.
As Theo and Kee make their way across the war torn landscape (civil war surrounds them, among other frightening things), they must run from the rebels who want Kee’s baby to be their new leader (if it’s a boy). They must count on the kindness of strangers and escape one hair-raising crisis after another as they make their escape.
This isn’t the first film to tackle this subject – end of the world, woman carrying the seed of the future. In fact, when cinema goes forward to the future the first thing it does is mess with women’s reproductive cycles. Somehow, it is thought that one day they won’t make babies the old-fashioned way. Babies will be grown in test tubes, of course.
It’s the end of life as we know it that sets the tone of inescapable fear and hopelessness in Children of Men. But there is one reason to keep hoping, and that’s because Kee and Theo survive.
The best reason to see Children of Men, though, isn’t necessarily the story. It’s a good story, and the acting is wonderfully varied – especially Clive Owen, who is not unlike Harrison Ford in Bladerunner, with his Bogart-like elusiveness and brooding charm. But it’s those dazzling long takes that make Children of Men a must-see.
One take in particular lasts a full nine minutes. Cuaron choreographed these segments and gave the actors specific instructions, yet they feel anything but rehearsed. These long takes give the film a present tense urgency that leaves you on the edge of your seat. There is no time to blink, let alone cut. Editing can upset or soothe the viewer, depending on how it’s done, but having no cuts at all for that long is disturbing and exhilarating at the same time.
Cuaron didn’t have to make Children of Men. He made a Harry Potter movie, which means he could coast on one big action movie after the next if he so chose. But there was something inside him that made him want to be a cinema revolutionary.
Perhaps this is why Children of Men is fast becoming the number one film among the most discerning of film geeks out there; there is nothing else out there like it and it is already changing the way filmmakers look at filmmaking, and it’s opening doors not just for those filmmakers, but for audiences who have been fed a steady diet of bland and safe fare for far too long.