Director Alfonso Cuaron's ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") envisioning of the year 2027 shares a similar dark atmosphere to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic "Blade Runner." But the futuristic world of "Men" is far more disheartening than Scott's sci-fi landscape. In "Men," human beings have seemingly lost the ability to reproduce, some of the planet's finest cities have been decimated, and government soldiers rule with an iron fist.
But amid the shroud of despair lies a bright glimmer of hope: the possibility of new life.
"Children of Men" opens slowly, as downtrodden citizens suffer the news that the world's youngest person, an 18-year-old young man dubbed Baby Diego, has died. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) seems relatively unfazed - it's obvious Theo had given up hope for the future of mankind a long time ago. Now Theo spends his hours sleepwalking through a dreary job and occasionally visiting his friend Jasper (Michael Caine), a sweet-natured hippie type who waxes philosophic and smokes marijuana.
Theo's humdrum existence takes a sharp turn when his former lover Julian (Julianne Moore) returns to his life asking for help. Julian leads a rag-tag group of rebels with a secret - one of their number is a young pregnant woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee). It will be the first child born in 18 years, and Julian's crew needs Theo to escort Kee to the coast and into the hands of the clandestine "Human Project."
The film's pacing accelerates like a gunshot once Theo reunites with Julian. We follow Theo as he suffers through violence and deceit, his resolve to help Kee and her unborn child proving steadfast. Owen and Caine steal the spotlight in the acting department, each bringing charisma and compassion to a pair of wonderful characters.
Cuaron's direction borders on genius. In one powerful scene, the camera follows Theo in one steady shot as a bloody battle rages between rebels and the military. Explosions and gunfire erupt around him, mauling frightened onlookers. But Kee is trapped inside a building at the core of the fighting, and Theo risks certain injury to rescue her. The intense scenario is one of the best battle scenes filmed in recent years, as Cuaron's slick direction keeps us at Theo's side through the arduous ordeal.
The graphic violence and permeating air of hopelessness in "Men" make for a less-than-uplifting experience. But this fascinating portrait of the future is one of the best-directed films of the year.