Starring: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timoth J. Sexton, David Arata, and Mark Fergus; adapted from the novel by P.D. James
Released: Universal Pictures (2006)
This was one of my favorite films from 2006, if not my very favorite from that year. It sprang up out of nowhere for me. I don't recall it making a big splash in theaters, though critics praised it plenty. I rented it on a lark when it came out on DVD and ended up being wowed. Now, a few years after seeing it I've had a chance to see it again and I enjoyed it as much or more.
The near future, 2027 to be exact, is pretty bleak. After some kind of event in 2009 has rendered humanity incapable of reproducing, most of the world has collapsed into anarchy and utter ruin ... except for Britain. Being an island unto itself has its advantages, I guess, as the country seals off its borders and hunkers down for the long haul into oblivion.
So, eighteen years later we are introduced to this world through the eyes of a British citizen named Theo (Clive Owen). He's a drunk and all-round malcontent, making ends meet in the city and escaping to the countryside on occasion to get wasted with his retired hippy scientist chum (played by Michael Caine). One day he's abducted and confronted by his ex-lover, Julian (Julianne Moore), who is part of a reported terrorist organization. She bribes him into getting transportation papers for a refugee, but the best he can manage is papers that require her to be escorted by him.
Things go swimmingly until all hell breaks loose. People get killed, allegiances turn, and Theo winds up wanted by just about everyone around him. Oh yeah, and the refugee is a young woman--young pregnant woman. And the fear is that if the government discovers she's pregnant, that a refugee and not a citizen is the one carrying around the first baby to be born in nearly two decades, they're going to be gunning for her one way or the other.
The movie is just riveting. The world is fleshed out in a way that you feel like your knee-deep in it, which is due in no small part to the fantastic camera work. If it's not the long, uncut action scenes as the camera follows along the characters as if in on the scene, it's the quiet moments when certain scenes are captured at their core elements--like one scene where Theo just collapses in on himself after a grueling chase.
I think what makes the movie so resonant is how the unconscionable behavior of some characters and sections of the society at large isn't quite as far-fetched as you might initially think. With the entire so-called civilized world shrunk in on itself within the confines of England, the microcosm of humanity shines white hot. And the unremitting fear and intolerance by Brits towards the "fugees" is emblematic of much more than immigration, especially as some of the scenes play out.
You might get away with calling it a smart action movie, but I would steer away from such a classification because it kind of cheapens the film. Clive Owen isn't playing some hero out to save the fair maiden in distress. Theo is nothing more than a confused, frightened man who when confronted with an extraordinary dilemma tries to do keep himself from falling back on old habits and do what's needed of him. If you haven't seen the film, you're in for a treat, though I wouldn't call it the "feel good film of the season."