What is going on in Mexico? First Pan's Labyrinth from Guillermo del Toro, and now Children of Men from Alfonso Cuarón, both directors whose work I've admired in the past but who have far exceeded themselves this movie season.
I finally saw Children of Men last night, and I wish I'd done so sooner since then my Hugo nominating ballot would have looked a bit different. I can't say enough good about this film. Adapted very loosely from the bloodless P.D. James novel, it's dystopian science fiction of a high order, and movie-making of an even higher order.
I won't belabor the wealth of throwaway details tucked away throughout the movie that makes its near-future landscape seem so real and plausible, like the little laser-painted warning symbol that appears on a shattered car windshield in a corner of the screen. I won't touch on the subtleties of character and symbolism worked almost subliminally into the fabric of the film, such as the way the inherent trustworthiness of Clive Owens' character is illustrated in the way all the animals in the movie are quietly drawn to him.
But I will rhapsodize about the way Cuarón directs his spectacular, thrilling, and harrowing action set pieces. From a terrifying ambush shot mostly from inside the crowded target car to a tense escape scene where both the pursuers and their quarry are trying to compression-start their vehicles on a long-but-not-long-enough downslope to Owens' epic scamper through a battle between various insurgent groups and Homeland Security troops in a refugee camp for illegal aliens that looks more like Beirut than Brixham, Cuarón manages to put the viewer right in the center of the brilliantly choreographed action while still conveying a perfect sense of what's going on everywhere at every moment. His mastery is such that you don't lose your place in the action or have any trouble following what's happening. His vision is cohesive and coherent.
This stands in contrast to most action movies today, which substitute flashy, choppy editing, blurred camera moves, and confusion for true, clear-eyed excitement. Just try to find the edits in Cuarón's action scenes. They're there (except in one magnificent extended tracking shot during the refugee camp battle), but they're so organic to the action that you hardly notice. Cuarón's direction in Children of Men is a masterclass in how to do it right.
Children of Men paints a vision of a grim future, but its style, always in service to its story, is so virtuosic that the movie becomes a joy to watch. I want to see it again.