Monday, January 01, 2007

It's green, it's green, it's tangerine

My daughter and I saw Children of Men yesterday, the new movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón that stars Clive Owen. I was interested in seeing it because I liked the look Cuarón gave Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film in the Harry Potter series -- and Owen, who gave an interesting performance in Spike Lee’s Inside Man.

The first step in my approach to critiquing a film is to determine whether it is primarily art or entertainment. Of course it could be both, or neither, and I don’t necessarily consider art “good” and entertainment “bad,” but I feel the distinction is a helpful starting point. It serves no useful purpose to judge Monsters Inc. with the same criteria as Richard the III.

I consider Children of Men to be primarily entertainment. It is a dystopian sci-fi action-adventure that follows its main characters from point A to point B, forcing them to overcome ever more formidable obstacles along the way.

The most important requirement for entertainment is that it entertain. This it does very well. The film is well paced, the slow parts are not too slow. They often contain humor and humanity and add depth to the characters. The action sequences are great, and not so sustained that the action becomes overwhelming. The acting is very good. In addition to Owen’s hang-dog performance, Claire-Hope Ashitey provides spunk and attitude, Juliette Moore does a worthy star turn and Michael Caine goofs it up, adding some much needed levity to the proceedings.

I say “much needed levity“ because Children of Men is not a light film. It is, in fact, very grim, which explains why a big budget blockbuster-type movie with an all-star crew and cast is playing in only three theaters in New York and given next to no publicity.

Much of the plot could have been stolen from Michelle Malkin’s wet dreams. As we follow the main characters from their point A’s to their point B’s, we see unremittingly bleak images of refugees/Illegal aliens in the background being brutally chased, herded, beaten, tortured, and killed with impunity.

And it is perhaps the most violent film I have ever seen. As a Natural Born Killers aficionado, I do not say that lightly. But if someone were to do a body count, like they did with NBK, I’d wager Children of Men would easily take the prize.

Yet we did not find the violence overwhelming. My daughter said it was because there was not much blood. Yea, I replied, but there were a lot of limbs.

And thinking back, I realize that there was a lot of blood as well, but it was not obvious because of the film’s palette. As he did with Azkaban, Cuarón removed nearly all of the magenta from the film, leaving it with an aquamarine cast and strong yellows. So the blood was mostly shadow with only the deepest reds showing through. You really only noticed it when it pooled. The splatter was mostly lost.

Beyond the palette, Children of Men was incredibly well filmed and edited. The action sequences are fantastic. I am not a war movie nerd, but I would guess that the final action scene is one of the best battle sequences ever filmed. It is certainly very good.

The plot is mostly coherent. It is adopted from a novel by P.D. James, the mystery writer who apparently went off the reservation in the early 90's and wrote a grim sci-fi novel that foresaw the direction of our future. There is only one scene, near the end, that intrudes on the suspension of disbelief. It’s unfortunate, and could have been easily rectified, but does not do much to mar the overall achievement of the picture.

Children of Men may be primarily entertainment, but it is not stupid entertainment, nor is it artless. If you like a very good dystopian action-adventure and can stomach a lot of very stark violence, or if you are into cinematography, I recommend it.

Update: If you want to get a taste of the look and feel, here's an interesting video montage someone made. I don't think it will spoil much of anything, but I could be wrong, so view with trepidation if you plan on seeing the movie.