Usually I remain ‘in the know’ when it comes to daring or non-conventional films. But somehow Children of Men is one that escaped my view. I remember seeing the trailer — at least I think I did. I don’t the trailer hinting that the film would be quite this grim.
This — as is the case with most reviews I do — is a spoiler free review. As a matter of fact, for a film like this to be “enjoyed” (and I use the term ‘enjoy’ very liberally) it’s probably best not to know a lot about it. Just hop in and kinda “take it in.” Just be prepared for a very grim look into the future.
To give the most general overview of the plot possible, Children of Men can be described as a post-modern look into a grim future with one very big “what if” scenario, which is hinted at by the title. It stars one of my favorite blokes, Clive Owen, turning in another solid performance. It also stars Julianne Miller and Michael Caine. Hmmm…. Probably not much else could be said about the film without spoiling it. The closest thing I could say about the setting that would give you a hint about whether or not you’d enjoy something like this is, “think of a cross between Fight Club and Twelve Monkey’s post-modern setting, but painted with a brush that is slightly more realistic and plausible.”
Perhaps had it not been for the recent events that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech, this would have been somewhat easier to watch. But certainly not by much. Considering the world that we live in today — in the middle of an bloody war with no end in sight, humans without homes, students gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — perhaps there aren’t any modern-day circumstances that would make this film an “enjoyable experience”. (At least not for me.) Although there are a few glimmers of faith and hope in the film, like 28 Days Later, you leave the experience with your head hung down. Way down.
One thing I will say about watching films like Children of Men, Elephant and others like it is that I find myself wanting to take a week off from the monotony of life and just spend time running through grass or driving along the countryside……or perhaps walking through the forest. And even if you don’t get to do those things, you realize that as bad as things may seem, they can always be a whole lot worse. Kinda like that feeling you have when you’re dreaming that someone’s trying to get you and you wake up and realize that everything’s o.k. You feel like you just hit the lottery. (Or am I the only one?) Anyway, I digress….
All of this having been said, I have a deep sense of appreciation for the film. For one, it is unlike anything I’ve seen in quite some time. It manages to be suspenseful, technically sound and provides a thought-provoking backdrop of social commentary. This film is far from ordinary, and for that alone I’ll recommend it. Also, watching this film in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound is an incredible experience. There are parts of the film where danger is ever present and on every side, and if you have a 5.1 or better speaker system, you will certainly feel this. There’s a scene towards the end of the film that is a true showpiece and demonstrates to those who may doubt the notion that sound can immerse you in the theatrical experience that it truly does matter. Visually the film maintains a very drab color palette, so perhaps it’s not quite the visual showpiece. However, hats off to the production designers, as the detail in the film to create a setting that is a believable post-modern London is truly amazing.
If there’s one cautionary note I must provide in addition to the depressing outlook that the film foretells of our future, it’s that this film is incredibly visceral. While not quite Saving Private Ryan-type blood and guts, there are numerous violent scenes that snowball and contribute to the feeling of despair that you’ll probably feel after the DVD goes back to the Menu screen.
I’ll add one other point of criticism. As daring and as original an approach that the film takes, after a few chance encounters with the enemy, you begin to realize that as long as Clive Owen is in the shot that somehow, someway, you’ll make it through. This is probably not as big a knock on this film as it is big Hollywood films in general. It’s probably a sure bet that Rambo isn’t going to be cut down halfway through a film with his namesake. On a lesser level, I felt that kind of safety with this film.
In these trying times, if you are the type of person that can truly distance themselves from the onscreen violence and appreciate what the film is saying (or perhaps warning us about) then I wholeheartedly recommend this film. However, if violence bothers you in the least, this might not be your cup of tea. Your nerves will be shot after having survived this and moreover, you’ll undoubtedly hang your head — even if only for a minute — after reflecting on the events in the film. Check this one out, as it’s an incredible ride. But while you’re standing in line at Blockbuster or when you’re adding movies to your Netflix queue, remember to pick up a comedy, as you’ll need something to break that feeling of hopelessness.
(One technical side note. Without giving anything away, there is a scene in the film that definitely is a marvel in filmmaking. Just past the middle of the film, there is a scene where Clive Owen and the character “Kee” are in a room together for an “event” that is about to take place. It is a truly stunning piece of CGI. (Actually, I’m not absolutely certain that it is, in fact, CGI. But, it had those noticable imperfections that usually let me know that it’s CGI, but oh man….we’re close. But this was closer than anything I’ve seen before. The scene comes towards the middle of the film and is key to the storyline. The film is worth seeing if only to check this out. Kudos to the CGI department. We’re getting closer every day, guys.)