Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #188
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Clive Owen and Julianne Moore
The dystopian/post-apocalyptic world has become one of science fiction's most tired clichés. It's difficult to find a new take on it that hasn't been done to death by Orwell or Bradbury or Asimov. In 1992, author P.D. James found one such take with her novel The Children of Men. In James' dystopia, conception became impossible, and as a result, no new children were being born. The youngest people on Earth were in their late teens and were worshiped like gods. Wars raged in the street and religious cults arose trying to find the meaning of life in a childless hell, where the population was constantly shrinking and the last person to die would be the last human being on the face of the planet. When Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón set out to direct a film adaptation of the book, there was considerable buzz in spite of a limited release. The result was every bit as great as one might imagine it would be given the concept, and introduced the world to a great director with a unique vision revolving around long, uninterrupted single camera shots that can feel sickeningly real at times. The movie wasn't a box office success, but science fiction lovers and critics alike showered it with praise.
Children of Men is notable primarily for two things: the direction and the use of soundtrack. The latter becomes evident very early on in the film when our protagonist (played brilliantly by a perpetually unimpressed Clive Owen) is making his way toward a government office and King Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King" starts playing. I remember thinking when I saw the film for the first time that this was the most brilliant use of popular song as film score I had ever seen. I had also recently seen Zack Snyder's Watchmen abortion, in which every overplayed classic rock song he could think of apparently perfectly fit some scene from a comic book that was perfect without sound and didn't need to be adapted in the first goddamn place. But I digress. "The Court of the Crimson King" makes so much sense in Children of Men that I started to reconsider the use of rock music in film altogether. You have to see it to know how well it's done. The greatness of Cuarón's direction takes a little longer to reveal itself, but it becomes abundantly clear during a scene where Owen, Julianne Moore and the rest of their group are driving through treacherous gang-rife territory when they get attacked. There is an approximately ten minute sequence composed of one shot from one camera positioned inside their vehicle. When it would be more comfortable to cut to another shot, we're forced to see what the people in the car would have seen. It's an unflinching act of cinematic heroism that single-handedly puts its director in the upper echelon of modern directors.
The rest of the film is pretty great, too. The visual storytelling succeeds in communicating the complex and tragic sci-fi story, and the acting is all top notch. It propelled its director near the top of a lot of screenwriters' wish lists. He headlines a class of great (relatively) young Mexican directors along with Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo Del Toro who are going to make a huge impact in the next decade of film. Children of Men is a shining example of why this is a very good trend for the industry.
The Good: Direction and soundtrack.
The Bad: I can't put my finger on one thing. This doesn't feel like a "greatest of all time" movie to me, but I still can't quite tell you why.
The Skinny: I can dig it on the list, and I can dig it at #188.