“Children of Men” pioneers long take trend in mainstream cinema
Earlier in the year, the Acadmy of Motions Pictures Arts & Sciences — also known as the Academy of the Oscars — awarded Birdman the statue for Best Picture, one of the two of the most important awards of the night. Its fantastic script and wonderful acting pwrformances aside, the movie was hailed for its technical prowess, specifically for creating the illusion of a two hour long take. But before Birdman, there was Gravity with its 17 minute long opening scene. The film was directed by Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón, whose journey with fabricated long takes began in 2006 with Children of Men.
The plot is your average action flick, with one group chasing another for something the latter has, except a number of original twists are added to make the premise quite an interesting one: the year is 2027, and as Britain reigns over the world and the echoes of war ring louder, humanity continues to die as fertility becomes a thing of the past.
The film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Clare-Hope Ashitey in addition to a multitude of other performers. And despite the fact that they all deliver on their roles, the true star of the movie is its director.
Clive Owen leads the cast as Theo Faron, a former activist who agrees to help his ex-wife smuggle a woman to safety. He fits into his laconic character’s persona quite well: he gives you just enough to latch on to without giving away everything about the character. While he’s not exactly relatable and at times falls flat, he manages to carry the movie from start to finish.
In an otherwise serious movie, Michael Caine takes on the duty of comic relief in what is one of my favourite roles for him. He plays Jasper, a good-natured intellectual and a friend of Theo’s who helps keep him safe. Caine shines (but of course) as the eccentric character, gaining instant likability. The remainder of the cast delivers strong supporting performances, but it is ultimately Caine that steals the show.
The movie was one of the first mainstream hits to feature the illusion of a long take. Actually, the first long take comes in the opening scene, and if I may say so myself, it is one of the most calculated, interesting opening scenes I’ve ever come across. I was hooked not two minutes in.
The technical work in the film truly shines. The film is very well-crafted to fit its layered premise. The distinct angles and use of the camera for tracking and panning shots added to the film’s realism. Furthermore, the editing is effortless and allows for a nice flow in an action-packed film, especially when it comes to its fight sequences. In fact, the use of long takes adds technical value to what would otherwise be normal fight or chase scenes.
What I loved most about the crafting of the film is definitely its cinematography. The dark colour gradients, the gritty imagery and the bleak ambiance of the shots, coupled with the equally gloomy mise en scéne, truly work in unison to create a feature that is authentic, believable, and faithful to its premise.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. While I think the writing is good, it is definitely not great. One one hand, it successfully (and fantastically) manages to convey the implicit message of barbarism and loss of innocence; on the other, its actual script is often dry and boring.
If there is one way this film gets it wrong, it’s the score. Aside from the dramatic main theme, the selection of music is annoying and ill-fitting. I was often distracted by the background music when I was watching this (even the song at the end credits is a bad one!).
Children of Men does more for its director than it does for its performers. The film is a very well-made, nicely-told motion picture that conveys a loud warning to its viewers. It constitutes a strong addition to Cuarón‘s repertoire, one that is surely to be worth your time.
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