Twenty-five minutes into Children of Men, a cramped car carrying five of the main characters travels down a lonely wooded lane near Canterbury, England, in the year 2027. We see a moment or two of idle Sunday-driving chat, which segues into a bit of playful business involving a Ping-Pong ball, until, without warning, the group is besieged by a pack of screaming radical carjackers, who pop out of the woods to give chase and open fire as the driver peels out in reverse. Someone is killed, the shock is forceful, the car gets away, but the sequence continues for another frantic few minutes as the police make a speedy entrance. What’s astounding about the scene — what makes it an instant, goose-bump-inducing movie classic — is that the director, Y Tu Mamá También’s Alfonso Cuarón, has seemingly caught all four minutes of it, from the opening banter on, in a single-camera take. Cuarón, in essence, out-Touch-of-Evils Touch of Evil.
And later he out-Touch-of-Evils himself. Set in a hollowed-out Britain on a war-torn planet lost to disaster, the story follows Theo (Clive Owen), the exhausted, unwilling guy who must lead the world’s first pregnant woman in 18 years past mercenaries and patrolled borders to safety. Cuarón’s long takes and snaking tracking shots are constantly intensifying the real-world nature of Owen’s sci-fi odyssey. But the single-shot concluding action sequence that trails Owen through a war zone runs more than six minutes, covers about as much ground as the car chase, and looks even more impossible. For film buffs, or people who like to crawl inside movies and marvel at the handicraft of how great directors put together their best films, Cuarón’s dystopian tale is heaven on DVD, ripe for endless how’d-he-do-that replays.
The extras don’t spill everything, but they give away just enough. Eschewing a commentary, Cuarón is featured in a tantalizing mini-doc on how his team put together the car chase and a pivotal bomb explosion. Even better is an enlightening F/X breakdown of a crucial scene involving the pregnant Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). But the other great (albeit unnerving) thing about Children of Men is that Cuarón’s bleak, pale-blue vision of a ruined 2027 feels not so implausible. To that point, there’s also a downright depressing 30-minute short by Cuarón featuring leftist philosophers and sociologists discussing the mess our world systems are currently in. Not for everyone (sample phrase: weaponizing of urban space), the dead-serious doc casts a sobering movie in an even darker light, and it affirms what every inch of this stunner of a film suggests: that Cuarón — one of the most talented movie craftsmen since Spielberg and Kubrick — is not fooling around.