Immediately after catching Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men in mid-November 2006, I called it the year’s best. So did many others. But it wasn’t long because the skeptics and the longfaces were calling it too downish and probably fated to lose money. This same crowd will always chime in whenever a stunningly audacious film comes along with an underlying attitude that isn’t peppy or buoyant enough. Did someone say “solemn”? Children of Men was easily the the most thrilling film of that year, if for nothing else than those three uncut action takes that became instant classics.
In an 11.20.06 HE piece called “Children = Guernica,” I wrote the following:
“While many critics were impressed by Children of Men‘s virtuosity and bravado,” writes Hollywood Reporter/Risky Biz blogger columnist Anne Thompson, “the industry types were seeing a downer film that’s going to lose money. The movie is a brilliant exercise in style, but it’s another grim dystopian look at our future — like Blade Runner or Fahrenheit 451 — that simply cost too much money.”
Wells to thoughtful industry types: (a) Yeah, it’s “grim” but, as you well know, only in a general milieu-ish way; (b) It’s mostly an action-driven chase movie, the story has a clear “maybe things aren’t so bad after all” theme, and the finale is all about relief, reverence and shelter from the storm; (c) When a movie is photographed with as much genius as Children of Men and is so thrillingly well-done, it can’t be called downerish unless you’re a total moron because the whole thing is so exhilarating to sit through.
“Going to Children of Men and calling it a ‘downer’ is like standing in front of Pablo Picasso‘s “Guernica” and complaining that it’s not colorful enough (i.e., Pablo painted it in grays, blacks and whites).
“Thompson reports that Men cost between $72 and $90 million, which I’ll admit seems like a lot. ‘So what if it makes money or not?,’ she rhetorically asks. ‘It matters because we want smart, risky movies to return some cash so that the studios are encouraged to make more of them.
“One could look at this as the passion project that [director-cowriter] Alfonso Cuaron finally got to make after delivering a blockbuster like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Thompson explained. “That’s how things work. He can afford a noble failure. The studios all want to be in business with him.”
Who’s even thinking about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban today? And who isn’t fondly recalling and occasionally re-watching Children of Men?