'Children of Men' — An exercise in fertility

The world is grim, cold and anarchic in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” and, sometimes, the same can be said for this barely sci-fi, palpably bleak infertility thriller. But when the movie dazzles, and it often does, inaccessibility crumbles. When it hits on human truths, and it often does, itapproaches glory.

Like writer-director Cuaron’s best-known films, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Y tu mama tambien,” “Children” takes familiar story elements and freshens them with extra spark and undercurrent. It turns a plot that could easily have played out ridiculously into something credible and affecting.

Loosely based on P.D. James’ novel, the 2027-set story transpires in a violence-ravaged world where Britain alone has maintained stability, and, fascist and decaying, it’s a sorry place. Infertility, meanwhile — the last baby was born 18 years ago — threatens to eliminate humankind.

Clive Owen plays Theo, a weary civil servant who is kidnapped by activists whose leader, his former lover Julian (Julianne Moore), persuades him to help a refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) escape the xenophobic country. Something epic rides on this mission: Kee, miraculously, is pregnant. Experiencing a surge of purpose, Theo goes on a treacherous journey and learns to trust nobody — activists and authorities alike would exploit Kee’s condition for political gain — as he strives to get Kee to safety and give the species hope.

Initially, the movie’s slow-going. The landscape’s bleak, Theo’s chilly, and five credited writers dish up dystopian ingredients that sometimes amount to loose ends. Julian doesn’t come across as a committed revolutionary. Her bitter interactions with Theo, with whom she shares a child-related tragedy, have a routine, contrived ring.

But Cuaron, by keeping things focused, intense and thoughtful, eventually delivers a film whose meaningfulness as well as entertainment value you can’t ignore. At times, it’s a morality drama with a pulse; at times, it’s an action flick with soul.

Visually, it’s extraordinary. A deadly attack on a car and a war-zone battle amid which Theo frantically searches for Kee are spectacular. Resonantly, the naturalistic London setting suggests not a futuristic fantasyland, but a blighted universe just a couple shades darker than our own.

With the exception of screenplay-hampered Moore, the cast clicks. Owen’s noir gene proves ideal for the story’s cynicism. Among the supporting cast, Michael Caine stands out, providing fabulous comic relief as Theo’s friend Jasper, an old hippie.

Credits

Children Of Men ***

Starring Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine

Written by Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby; based on P.D. James’ book

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 49 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
Shutterstock
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

Charles Joseph, who is represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, is facing deportation to Fiji. <ins>(Courtesy photo)</ins>
Giving immigrants a second chance after incarceration

Legislation would allow some faced with deportation a chance to challenge their old convictions

The San Francisco Police Department released body camera footage of the alleged assault on Dacari Spiers. (Via SFPD Body Cam)
SF police officer to stand trial for assault over baton beating

A San Francisco police officer who prosecutors say unnecessarily beat a man… Continue reading

Most Read