How could the Academy overlook “Children of Men?”
As far as Academy Award best picture snubs go, forget “Dreamgirls.” At least that brilliant, soulful, and surprisingly well-adapted Broadway musical received eight other nominations. And with the final push toward the ceremony, it will probably top $100 million in box office. The real travesty is the absence of any buzz whatsoever and only three relatively minor nominations (for cinematography, editing and adapted screenplay) for “Children of Men,” an apocalyptic thrill ride that is as gritty as it is gripping, with a dark terror outgunned only by its daring humanity.
Part “Nativity Story,” part “Saving Private Ryan” with a doomsday imagery that fosters memories of “12 Monkeys” (which timeline-wise could be a prequel), director Alfonso Cuaron (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) has come up with a doozy of a futuristic firestorm.
Set in burned-out London in 2027, it’s been 18 years since anyone on Earth has given birth, and if that news isn’t chilly enough for the world’s glum inhabitants, the death of its youngest person, Baby Diego, signals further dystopic mayhem.
Sectarian violence is the norm, with illegal immigrants (called fugees-short for refugees) being rounded up and caged by a shoot-first government militia and terrorists running amok. A gloomy anarchy of Orwellian proportions.
Against this gray backdrop, filmed spectacularly with you-are-there handheld cameras, emerges Theo (richly multi-faceted Clive Owen), a shell-shocked anti-hero who’s nearly blown to smithereens by a random street bomb. He’s kidnapped by his former wife (Julianne Moore) and persuaded to use his government connections to help her underground faction smuggle Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. Turns out she’s a fugee with a secret– a big secret– she’s been carrying in utero for eight months.
Thus begins the rescue mission of a lifetime, and arguably the best movie of the past year. Theo and Kee are beset by double-crossing activist renegades, they duck indiscriminate street terrorism, and flee one war-torn safe house after another. Not without moments of welcomed lightness, Michael Caine’s cameo as a reclusive forest-dwelling, hemp-loving, rap-listening hippie and former political cartoonist Jasper offers a charming ray of sunshine amid the world’s hazy shade of infertile winter.
Despite its relentlessly bleak tone, the film remains more a cautionary tale than a heavy-handed political statement. Comparisons to modern day Iraq cast a foreboding, unavoidable shadow over “Children of Men,” yet deciding which strategy– abort or stay-the-course-best circumvents the film’s prophetic undertones remains a difficult choice.
More important is the film’s reliance on hope amid the lunacy. Theo’s evolution from apathetic everyman to post-modern Joseph is filled with some of the most moving sequences in recent memory, involving both life’s creation and destruction.
No matter which film wins the best picture Oscar this year, “Children of Men” will be the most memorable film. Seeing is believing.
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity.