Children of Men takes the classic Nativity story, adds a dash of Casablanca and a pinch of Brazil, then revs up the engine and lets it fly out of the gate at a hundred miles per hour. This tense nail-biter masquerading as a sci fi movie is set in 2027 England, some nineteen years after all the women of Earth have inexplicably become sterile (it's suggested that a flu pandemic in 2008 may have been the cause), where a former idealist turned bureaucrat (Clive Owen) is literally kidnapped into helping a violent anti-government group, who have enlisted him in transporting an illegal immigrant across astonishingly hostile territory and on to safety.
What makes this immigrant so special? Well, you see, she's eight months pregnant. Which in a childless world becomes a very big - and, we learn, politically significant - deal. And though like many things in the film the "why" behind this crucial detail is never explained, one barely has time to wonder as Cuarón sets his protagonists off on one suspenseful adventure after another.
I can't say yet if Children of Men is the masterpiece that some critics are calling it, but I sure enjoyed watching it. Cuarón's work as a director just keeps getting better, and although the excessive amount of screenwriters (no less than five are credited with adapting the P.D. James novel to the screen) still can't get rid of the occasional clunky or pretentious bit of dialogue, this film is all about the action. Mind you, this doesn't mean that it's lunk-headed in any way. Call it a thinking man's thriller.
There are also some genuinely poignant moments, plenty of social commentary, and loads of rich detail - so much of the latter that the film warrants repeat viewings to catch it all. The always-welcome Owen leads a great cast (including Michael Caine in a hippie wig - what terrific roles this guy's been getting at the twilight of his career!), but it's the talented Cuarón and his epic, single-shot set pieces who are the stars. Emmanuel Lubezki's celebrated cinematography isn't exactly chopped liver, either.
Not nearly as depressing as it could have been, and fascinatingly - sometimes frustratingly - vague with the questions it brings up, Children of Men will likely be one of those movies that audiences will rediscover and cherish in the years to come. If that makes it a classic, so be it.