Alfonso Cuaron's bleak dystopian fable, based on a novel by P.D. James, unfolds in a world halfway to hell and picks up speed as it goes.
London, 2027. England is an oasis in a world laid to waste by starvation, civil war, disease and nuclear attacks. Worst of all, 18 years earlier every woman on Earth became inexplicably infertile, and a world without children is a world with hope for the future. Under such circumstances, "oasis" is a relative term: England is still functioning, but the price of relative safety and order is the surrender of personal liberties and acceptance of an increasingly oppressive social order. Police round up immigrants and confine them to squalid detention camps — or worse — while heavily-armed soldiers prowl the cities and countryside, and bombs regularly rock London's streets.
In another life, Theo Faron (Clive Owen) was politically engaged and dedicated to fighting against the world's injustices. He lost his revolutionary zeal after his small son Dylan's death in a worldwide flu pandemic, which also destroyed Theo's marriage to Julian (Julianne Moore). His only friend is old hippy Jasper (Michael Caine), who's also retreated from this harsh new world; his refuge is a carefully camouflaged cottage, where Jasper lives off the grid, growing pot and tending his invalid wife. Julian, who joined an underground immigrants' rights group, the Fishes, after leaving Theo, re-enters his life dramatically: She needs transit papers for young, African-born Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) — which Theo's well-connected cousin (Danny Huston) can provide — as well as Theo's help escorting her to the coast. Why Julian and her associates, including motherly Miriam (Pam Ferris) and Julian's ruthlessly efficient right-hand, Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), are willing to risk their lives for Kee isn't immediately apparent — until Theo realizes she's pregnant. Julian wants her delivered to representatives of the Human Project, a shadowy scientific organization; she's afraid of government reaction to the possibility that Britain's first child in a generation could be born to a dark-skinned "fugee" (refugee). Other members believe revealing Kee might shame policymakers into rethinking official hostility to foreigners.
Theo and Kee's arduous flight to Bexhill-on-Sea forms the film's core and showcases both Cuaron's technical skill — an attack on their car by motorcycle thugs, meticulously choreographed and captured in a single intricate shot is a tour-de-force — and his ability to draw first-rate performances from his actors. The screenplay, which differs significantly from the novel, is uneven, but the distorted mirror it holds up to the present is disturbingly clear. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh