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click to enlarge In the future, Clive Owen never spills his coffee.
  • In the future, Clive Owen never spills his coffee.

*Children of Men (R)

Chapel Hills 15, Tinseltown
Alfonso Cuar'n's Children of Men is an unexpected surprise it's a wonderful, transcendent film of stupendous achievement.

From its opening frames, it's not hard to identify Children of Men as something special. Director Cuar'n and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki waste no time in establishing the film's unique, dystopian vision of the future: Women can no longer have children and the world is mourning of the loss of its youngest human inhabitant, an 18-year-old. Chaos rules the cold, gray streets.

Clive Owen stars as Theo, a former activist whose ex-wife (Julianne Moore) is involved in a resistance known as the Uprising. Theo's closest friend is Jasper (Michael Caine), a congenial pot-smoking hippie who enjoys waxing philosophical with the much more cynical Theo.

There is little in the way of exposition, aside from establishing the dire situation the world finds itself in; Theo is walking when two men stick a gun in his face, throw a hood over his head and bring him to his ex-wife, who feels he is the only person she can trust to secure travel papers for a mysterious, all-important woman.

After debating his potential involvement, Theo is finally introduced to this woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who is somehow eight months pregnant. Suddenly, Theo's mission is clear: He is being asked to save the human race.

Owen's performance is physical, ferocious and brave. His character, a fugitive whose only crime has been serving humanity, is constantly on the run. The role is especially trying in what might be the film's most impressive stretch: a single-choreographed, six-plus-minute sequence that has Theo fleeing through three blocks of a battle-torn city, dodging bullets and bombs and seeking shelter. Cuar'n has said he prepped the shot for 12 days and spent two more days trying to capture it on film.

Moore's appearances on-screen which are less frequent than her second billing would have you believe are also especially strong. And Caine's Jasper is especially delightful with his childlike "pull my finger" jokes.

If there's a problem with Children of Men, it's that some of the important back-story questions are never answered. Why did women become infertile? How did Kee get pregnant? Why is everyone so against taking the pregnancy public? Everyone seems to fear the government, but there's no evidence to suggest that the baby and its mother would be in trouble if they turned themselves in.

But Children of Men has moments of such haunting transcendence that you forget these minor misgivings. Instead, the film will leave you shaking, with your bottom lip quivering and tears welling up in the corners of your eyes. It's a wonder how author P.D. James (of the novel on which this film is based) came up this terrifying yet seemingly plausible vision of the future.

This is no kiddie flick. Nor is it a light, fluffy film about hope. It is gritty and grainy and handheld and dirty and so magnificently thought-provoking and entertaining, few people will walking away from it unmoved.

It is a triumph of filmmaking and proof that Cuar'n is one of cinema's most talented creative minds.

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