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'CHILDREN OF MEN' (****)

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Posted: Friday, January 5, 2007 10:00 pm

The end of the year is always a frustrating time for me. I do my best to get the word out to readers about the year's best films, but so many of the potentially great ones are released so late in the year that I don't get a chance to see them before deadline, unless I want to hop a plane to Los Angeles. Such is the case with Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men," which topped my list of the most promising movies I didn't see before drafting my top 10 list, and would have made a showing on the list proper if I had seen it in time. It's a film of infinite imagination, and a welcome reminder of why we go to the movies in the first place: to see something we've never seen before.

The year is 2027, and the world is in chaos. After years of unexplained infertility, the human race is dying. Governments have lost control in the midst of a slow but sure Armageddon, and Britain stands as the only nation maintaining some semblance of civilization. Nonetheless, it's an Orwellian police state in which bombings are commonplace and immigrants are rounded up into what amount to death camps.

Theo Faron (Clive Owen) has long since stopped caring. He shuffles through life in a depressive, alcoholic haze, still mourning the death of his son decades later. Theo has an unexpected reunion with his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) when the resistance group she heads enlists him to help smuggle a young immigrant out of the country and into the protection of a phantom activist organization. Cash-strapped, he agrees, but finds he has gotten far more than he bargained for as he discovers the importance of the young woman he's protecting: She's miraculously pregnant with the first child humanity has seen in 18 years.

It may sound like strictly art-house fare, but even for audiences who like their movies fast-paced and heavy on the explosions, "Children of Men" delivers. Theo must travel through Britain while hiding the condition of a 9-month-pregnant companion, and must evade capture by the many factions - from the government to warring resistance fighters - who wish to use the child for their own political gain. So as unlikely as it may seem, Cuaron's philosophically inclined sci-fi think-piece emerges as one of the most exciting films of the year.

But what I appreciated most about "Children of Men" wasn't the sustained excitement, or the smart writing, or the strong acting. The most amazing thing to me was the sheer originality of Cuaron's vision. His "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" showed us that he has considerable talent when it comes to helming visually oriented movies, but nothing prepared me for what he shows us in this film. With the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron has crafted an utterly unique vision of the future that is at times as beautifully surreal as it is brutally realistic. I love it when filmmakers are able to create a whole new universe for moviegoers to explore, and with "Children of Men," Cuaron has given us one for the ages.

"Children of Men" is rated R for violence, profanity, brief nudity and drug use. It is currently playing in limited release, and will expand in the coming weeks.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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