The year is 2027, and the world is dying. Famine, plagues, and terrorism rule the land, but something far more dire is occurring: there have been no new human babies born since 2009. Theo (Clive Owen) is a working-class drone thrust into danger when his radical ex-wife (Julianne Moore) needs his help getting an illegal immigrant named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) out of London and to a safe haven. Evil men from various organizations (including Chitwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, and Peter Mullan) are in hot pursuit, and deceptions are everywhere they step. Through it all are Theo and Kee taking a journey through hell to protect the most precious and surprising of cargo: her pregnancy.
Director Alfonso Cuaron's flirtation with sinister places ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Y tu mama tambien") is finally consummated with "Children of Men." This is a grim as it gets, folks, detailing a dystopian world at the end of its rope. Injustice is around every corner, violence is an hourly ritual, and suicide has been packaged by the pharmaceutical companies with all the branding comfort of a daily vitamin dose. Since humanity stopped being able to reproduce, the planet gave up trying to exist peacefully or carry any hope for purpose.
Like a bully at freshman orientation, Cuaron shoves the audience to the ground right from the start, pushing our faces into the dirty, bloody mess of it all. The once regal London has fallen sharply into pure chaos and disease (apparently, the rest of the world is even worse), with civil liberties stripped away, immigrants caged liked animals, and reminders the end is near cruelly infesting daily ritual. Realized with a chilling production design, "Men" is red carpet tour of the end of days, pocked with a decaying countryside and cities reduced to widespread rubble and unmitigated grief.
Everything in this film is covered in dirt, soot, or blood, yet the story is not an unpleasant trial of moviegoing. Cuaron keeps pushing the movie forward with moments of unbearable tension, shocking and blunt acts of violence, and the suspense of Kee's journey to some small glimpse of freedom. One of the medium's most interesting visual artists, Cuaron pushes "Men" cinematically further than anything he's done before.
Employing exotic use of one-take camera moves supported by seamless CG tricks, the director maintains the even pace of the brutality, allowing the viewer a full-on view of Theo's interaction with danger without the usual crutches of cutaways and obvious cheating. "Men" moves like a funeral procession; slowly, methodically creeping into the belly of the beast, it's met with equal parts fascination and gut-churning horror as Theo breathes in the desperation of life, and a glint of hope that this future baby could bring to the despondent masses.
"Children of Men" is a blunt instrument of political statement, social responsibility, and governmental upheaval. It's a film created with an extraordinarily apocalyptic atmosphere that is monumentally tricky to pull off, but Cuaron succeeds at telling this difficult story without wallowing in sadness. It's ace direction with material that would've drowned immediately under a different general.