It's 2027 and Ministry of Energy employee Theo Faron makes his way through his everyday mundane life smoking, drinking, and holding little but contempt for those around him. His dismal outlook on life is warranted - in 2009 women mysteriously stopped being able to have babies. The entire planet with the exception of England has collapsed. Political extremists terrorize the populace, the government has taken to deporting refugees into concentration camps, and you can't even go into a coffee shop without hearing about the brutal death of the world's youngest person - Baby Diego, just over 18 years of age. Rumors abound about a mysterious group called the Human Project - a group of scientists located off shore working in secret to solve the problem of the planet's infertility.
It is in this desperate future that Alfonso Cuarón tells the tale of Theo's attempt to transport a scared young girl who may hold the secret to Earth's, and Theo's, salvation. Anyone upset that Clive Owen did not get the role of James Bond should rejoice - he absolutely owns the role of emotionally battered Theo. Every part of him - his eyes, the crack and weariness in his voice, the sad rumple of fabric he counts as his clothing - all contribute to paint a portrait of a man whose once limitless passion was crushed in a single, gargantuan blow.
Contacted by his ex-wife (a short but beautifully expressed Julianne Moore) to escort the young Kee to the coast and hopefully into the arms of the Human Project, we see Theo's armor slowly fall off, leaving him fully exposed to the horror and the hope that he guarded against for so long. Watch for two scenes in particular to see how Owen manages this without a word - in the picture above and again driving away after sustaining another devastating loss. His face collapses for a brief moment before regaining his composure. But in that brief moment everyone in the theater's heart broke.
The rest of the cast is equally fantastic. Although the show most definitely belongs to Owen, there are great (thought very small) performances by Moore as his ex-wife turned rebel leader, and Michael Caine as Jasper, who provides a respite for Theo from the pain and loneliness of his working life. More about their roles and actions in the movie should be left for the viewer to experience. Also appearing in equally fulfilling roles are Chiwetel Ejiofor (who is fast becoming one of my favorite actors) and Claire-Hope Shitey, who plays the young woman carrying the hope for a future.
But probably the biggest character next to Theo is the world itself. A lot of people have made comparisons to Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER, but I think this world Cuarón paints is more bleak, more alarming, and more fully realized than anything put forth in that film. In fact, if there's one thing that I found that distracted me from the film, it was that the world Theo and Kee have to travel through is so depressing, so thoroughly realized, that you become completely enveloped in the sense of dread and despair, so much that when the amazingly enormous moment of the film occurs (after a climactic battle in abandoned apartment building), you're just thankful for the release.
One additional thing to note is the wonderful use of sound in CHILDREN OF MEN. Cuarón uses music again to brilliant effect (as he did on Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN), and the ending credits are startling for what they reveal had been missing from one of what was definitely the top movies of 2006.
Which didn't come to my neck of the woods until 2007. Bastards.