Children of Men (2006)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #19

The year 2027:
The last days of the human race.
No child has been born for 18 years.
He must protect our only hope.

Country: USA & UK
Language: English… and German, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Arabic, Georgian & Russian, apparently.
Runtime: 109 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 22nd September 2006 (UK)
First Seen: cinema, October 2006

Stars
Clive Owen (Inside Man, Shoot ‘Em Up)
Julianne Moore (The Hours, Still Alice)
Michael Caine (The Italian Job, Batman Begins)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave)
Danny Huston (The Proposition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity)

Screenwriters
Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Gravity)
Timothy J. Sexton (Live from Baghdad, The Liberator)
David Arata (Brokedown Palace, Spy Game)
Mark Fergus (First Snow, Iron Man)
Hawk Ostby (First Snow, Cowboys & Aliens)

Based on
The Children of Men, a novel by P.D. James.

The Story
In the near future, mankind has become infertile, and no child has been born for 18 years. The world has gone to hell, with Britain one of the few countries that still has a functioning government, albeit a controlling, totalitarian one. In this world, government drone Theo is persuaded by his ex-wife, now head of an activist group, to escort a friend out of the country. Turns out that friend is a young woman… who’s pregnant — a situation that interests a lot of dangerous people…

Our Hero
Theo, disillusioned former activist, who’s roped back in, initially by kidnap, later with the promise of a hefty payday. Before long it turns out he’s actually a good guy at heart, of course.

Our Villains
“The rest of humanity” wouldn’t be a wholly bad answer here, as Theo and co keep bumping up against people violently concerned with their own interests. Within that, there’s the issue of if the activist group’s motives can be trusted…

Best Supporting Character
Theo’s friend Jasper, a former political cartoonist turned pot dealer, played by Michael Caine as a John Lennon-inspired old hippy.

Memorable Quote
“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.” — Miriam

Memorable Scene
Any of the (faked-)single-take action sequences is a worthy pick here. Alternatively, fans of a certain rock group will appreciate the inflatable pig floating over Battersea Power Station.

Technical Wizardry
As our heroes escape in a little Fiat, they’re attacked on a country road, the camera moving around the small person-filled vehicle in a single take. They used a special camera rig, along with a car modified to allow the windscreen to tilt out of the camera’s path, and seats that tilted to lower the actors out of the way too. The “single” shot took six takes in four locations, transition effects to seamlessly join shots, and CGI to create the motorbike, windscreen, blood, roof, and more.

Making of
The other most memorable single take is near the end, a running street battle during which Clive Owen’s layperson does his best to not get killed. It took 14 days to prepare the shot, with a delay of five hours every time it had to be reset. It was filmed over the course of two days, but only one complete take was actually captured. In the middle of one take, some blood spattered on the camera lens; Cuarón shouted “cut”, but was drowned out by the sound of tank and gunfire. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki persuaded the director to leave it in, and that’s the shot in the final film. Pay attention during the sequence and you can see the liquid and dirt that gets splattered on the lens disappear during one of the ‘seamless’ cuts.

Awards
3 Oscar nominations (Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing)
2 BAFTAs (Cinematography, Production Design)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Science Fiction Film)
2 Saturn nominations (Actor (Clive Owen), Director)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.

What the Critics Said
“[Cuarón] increasingly shoots the film’s set pieces in virtuoso long takes — gliding tracking shots that evoke Tarkovsky and handheld work that suggests Kathryn Bigelow. What makes these scenes stunning is not only mind-boggling choreography and timing, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera somehow capturing multiple planes of action even while continuously changing position, but also their ability to realistically evoke the frightening chaos and simultaneous madness of war. […] Such overwhelming studio work might be too arty for those who like their genre served sans showiness. But Cuarón is implementing a verisimilitude that both matches the film’s edge-of-your-seat escalations and demonstrates a new understanding of blockbuster realism.” — Michael Joshua Rowin, Stop Smiling

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Cuarón uses sequences evocative of Holocaust imagery and detention camps to implicitly communicate a world rife with injustice and pain. In designing the look of the film, Cuarón told his art department that he did not want inventiveness, but reference, so that an audience would be able to adequately recognize a distorted form of their own reality. For the reader and viewer who encounter this uncanny world, it feels all the more real because of its familiar elements.” — Mariel Calloway

Verdict

I saw Children of Men on a whim back in 2006. I can’t even remember why — I don’t think I’d seen any trailers or reviews, and it had been open for a good few weeks already. It was a time when I went to see loads at the cinema, though (in those days I paid good money to see Fun with Dick and Jane — does anyone even remember that?), and I think it may’ve been the only thing still on. Anyway, it meant I actually got in a little ahead of the hype that has gradually (and justifiably) grown around the film since, and still loved it. Cuarón mixes intelligent near-future sci-fi with exciting, and excitingly-realised, action sequences to create an action-thriller of a movie that stimulates both the mind and the adrenal glands. A fantastic film in every respect.

#22 will be next… to give the Devil his due.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

2015 #127
Francis Lawrence | 123 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

If you’re not au fait with the first two Hunger Games movies, there’s nothing for you here. Why would you want to join a story halfway through anyway?

Even for those of us who are, Mockingjay Part 1 — the first half of a two-part finale that, for my money, plays more like its own standalone movie than most first halves of two-part finales manage (I’m thinking of Deathly Hallows 1 or The Matrix Reloaded here) — throws us in at the deep end, starting a little while after the end of the last film and challenging us to keep up. It’s a little frustrating at times — if you’ve not watched the previous movies into the ground, there are points where you wonder if you’ve forgotten something or just not been told it yet — but ultimately helps make for an engrossing, mature movie.

Naturally I mean “mature” in the sense of “grown up”, not in the oft-misused sense of “for adults only, wink wink”. This is a thoughtful film, one which has more time for examining issues of politicking than for bang-bang-a-boom fight scenes. Indeed, if you’ve come looking for an action movie — as, it seems, most critics did — then you’ll definitely be disappointed. If, however, you’re looking for a film to continue the series’ rich vein of sci-fi political allegory, well, you’re in luck. This edition: propaganda.

In the previous films, heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) inadvertently inspired a rebellion against the ruling Capitol, which has been bubbling away without her knowledge. Now, having been targeted by evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), she’s been transported to the underground locales of District 13, where they want to put her in films to continue spreading dissension among the other districts. At the same time, the Capitol are putting Katniss’ captured lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on the air, arguing for peace and maintaining the status quo. It’s a war of hearts and minds, essentially, as both sides attempt to rally ordinary people to their cause through the power of the media. It’s a tale that’s as timely as ever, surely.

One of my favourite elements here is the distrust that both sides engender. The rebels Katniss has found herself with are certainly the good guys, battling to overthrow an abusively oppressive regime, but they aren’t whiter-than-white — they won’t always do everything our hero would like; she’s not always sure she can trust them. There’s no doubt about which side is the right one to be on, but it’s at least a little more complex than the norm.

Katniss herself remains a refreshingly un-self-assured heroine. She doesn’t always know or do what’s right, she isn’t always sure of her purpose or her goals, or even her own feelings. That’s so much more human than so many movie heroes, no doubt in part thanks to having an Oscar-able actress to carry the role. True, we’ve seen these facets before from her in both of the previous films, but hurrah to author Suzanne Collins and to the filmmakers for not taking the simple route of having her transform into something she didn’t start as. There’s still a whole outstanding film to bring about such a change, of course, so we’ll just have to wait and see how they follow this through to the end.

The fact there will be another film is an undoubted point of contention. The Hunger Games is the latest to follow in Harry Potter’s footsteps and split the final book of a series in two when filmed. Indeed, since Twilight latched onto that bandwagon it’s become de rigueur, with the final-book-split usually announced as soon as the first film in a wannabe-series is a box office hit — see the Divergent series, for example (or The Maze Runner for one that supposedly won’t succumb to this). Despite the complaints from many other critics and viewers, I must say that (as someone who hasn’t read the book) it didn’t feel overly like the first half of something longer to me. Of course there’s a cliffhanger and stuff, but there was at the end of the last film as well. This is no worse than that. If anything, I felt Mockingjay Part 1 built to its ending more successfully — I was quite surprised when Catching Fire stopped, whereas here the ending felt like a natural stopping point. In fact, given the point some of the storylines reach, it’s difficult to imagine them feeling anything other than rushed if they’d been executed in half the time. Maybe the film is a little drawn out in places and some storylines could’ve been condensed (how many propaganda films do we need to see Katniss make, really?), but that’s a niggle about perhaps wanting a minor trim, not a complaint decrying the need for full-blown editorial intervention.

Whether or not this Part 1 stands alone will be cemented by the next film, I feel. If the focus on using Katniss as no more than a propaganda figurehead isn’t continued in Part 2 then, well, that’s the part of the story that this film is about. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be continued next time — that particular propaganda angle has been fully explored — and so I think this instalment will feel much more like a fully-fledged film in its own right if they just move on. I hope the final film give us new themes, new subplots, new arcs to follow; I hope it feels like Part 4 of 4, in the way this currently feels like Part 3 of 4, and doesn’t play as Part 3B of 3 and retroactively transform this into Part 3A.

If you like a lot of Hunger Games action from your Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay Part 1 will certainly be a disappointment. On the other hand, if you more enjoy the political satire side of the series, it may be your favourite instalment so far (and you wouldn’t be alone in that view). For me, Catching Fire is the best of the three because it crystallises both of those constituent elements; and if the first film was purely the action side (with a bit of the politics), then here we find its mirror image: purely politics (with a bit of action). Either way, perhaps the ultimate fate of all these films rests on how well the next, final part can bring all their action, themes, and plots to fruition.

4 out of 5

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is available on Netflix UK from today.