The infertile future

Children of Men takes the action drama to another level

WHO PUT THE BOMB ON?<br> Clive Owen makes it through a typical day in a futuristic Britain in <i>Children of Men</i>.

Clive Owen makes it through a typical day in a futuristic Britain in Children of Men.

Children of Men Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Tinseltown. Rated R
Rated 4.0

Children of Men makes a distinctive addition to a line of dystopian thrillers that includes Blade Runner and Twelve Monkeys.

Set in Britain in the year 2027, it posits a world in which women have ceased giving birth to children and the great cities of the world are collapsing into chaos. That plainly pessimistic premise serves as a haunting, large-scale backdrop for the thriller-suspense plot and for an action movie in which an elaborate chase and a near-miraculous rescue become part of a heroic struggle to keep human hope alive.

And in this story, hope is literally embodied by Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a young woman who has become pregnant—the first such event in the world in over 18 years—and whose status as an “immigrant” makes her even more an object of contention. The reluctant man of action who takes on the task of protecting her and guiding her to a safe haven is one Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a gloomy bureaucrat who still has twinges of the political idealism that marked his youth.

Adapted from a P.D. James novel, the film’s action takes on a kind of zig-zag momentum as it navigates its own darkly fascinating narrative world. It’s an action movie that’s never merely generic, and it’s a dourly futuristic fantasy that never fully abandons itself to allegory and myth on the one hand or to politics and satire on the other.

It helps considerably that the story brings in an array of offbeat secondary characters and that all of them are played with quirky vigor by a scruffily attractive cast: Michael Caine as a paternally unrepentant hippie/rebel, Julianne Moore as a political activist and Theo’s ex, Pam Ferris as Kee’s fiercely committed female protector, Danny Huston as a cynical aesthete who is collecting abandoned treasures of world art, Peter Mullan as a curmudgeonly “fascist bastard” and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a double-dealing guerilla.

Some bravura filmmaking gives qualities of immediacy and grit that don’t usually find their way into big-budget action fantasies. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan) does the chase scenes in elaborately choreographed long takes and gets an astonishing mixture of poetry and realism out of a childbirth scene shot in a single take full of appositely graceful camera movement.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s grandly gloomy cinematography contributes frequently to the film’s special resonances. And the images themselves offer a small feast of audio-visual detail—a hint of Abu Ghraib in an internment camp scene, a recurring folk-rock arrangement of “Ruby Tuesday,” a moment when the fleeing Theo has to wear flip-flops for shoes and the sheer fact of a childbirth scene credibly embraced in an action-movie setting.