2006 // Japan - UK - USA // Alfonso Cuarón // May 7, 2010 Format: Blu-ray - Universal (2009)
This was my first occasion to revisit Cuarón's despairing-then-hopeful thrill ride since its fumbled theatrical release and more recent best-of-the-decade accolades (the film appeared at #76 in Slant's countdown and claimed Reverse Shot's #19 slot). In retrospect, it's clear why Children of Men—and not the hot-and-bothered arthouse amble Y Tu Mamá También, or the auteurist blockbuster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—is the feature that secured the director's status as the most disciplined and effortlessly engaging of Mexico's big-name film-makers. Four years later, it's not Children's dense science-fiction world-building that most impresses, nor the technical bravado of those one-take action set pieces (especially given that the visceral, immersive impact of a first-time viewing can never be recreated). No, what's astonishing is the simplicity of the thing, despite the stable of screenwriters and the mammoth, textured character of Cuarón's near-future landscape. Compared to the other science-fiction achievements of the past decade, Children of Men is a tightly plotted thing, lacking any of the extraneous elements that so often bog down other entries in the genre. While it may be less thematically ambitious than either WALL•E or Moon, Cuarón film doesn't seem to have a single narrative fumble or pinch of flab. Everything serves its propulsive, harrowing observation of Theo's journey from apathy to heroism, an evolution that Cuarón and leading man Clive Owen make all the more potent by rendering it with perfect naturalism. If Children of Men's Abu Ghraib imagery now seems stale, consider that Arizona's recent enactment of a "Papers, Please" law lends the film's police-state treatment of illegal immigrants—excuse me, "fugees"—a new-found weight. It just goes to prove that a pitch-perfect dystopian fable never loses its relevance.