Cautionary dystopia, religious allegory, and study in choreography of the camera, Children of Men’s grand designs are evident long before the Dutch Master-lit birth of the world’s impossibly conceived potential savior in a refugee ghetto standing in for a manger. It’d be risible if it wasn’t so well thought-out: working from P.D. James’ novel, directorAlfonso Cuarón conjures a smog-bound England circa 2027 (looking much like today, as if everyone’s given up on home improvement), where governments round up illegals and maintain loyalty by instilling paranoia, and a global infertility pandemic has humanity counting down to extinction. When cynic-failed-romantic Theo (Clive Owen) is recruited by old activist flame Julianne Moore to escort a miraculously preggers ‘fugee to the so-called “Human Project,” the initial obstacle is the regime’s closed borders and Gitmo-style detainment facilities. But this not-so-distant future is equally fraught by a fanaticized resistance, notably the refugee insurgency that takes to the streets for some third-act urban warfare. Meanwhile, things go hippie-drippy whenever Michael Caine, as Theo’s ganja-growing mentor, invokes from uncertain ironic distance the Holy Trinity of Beatles, Stones, and Dylan.
Though there’s moments of forehead-smacking bombast, the handheld continuous takes, following the characters in and out of cars and battle scenes, sell the stakes. For pure war-movie blocking it rivals Miklos Jancso, as filtered through The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’s cement-chafed Wisemanisms. Cuarón denies the reprieve of a cut: when a detonated blood packet splatters onto the lens, it stays there. And he consolidates his ambition with an ending reminiscent of a Japanese atomic-anxiety parable (say, Dr. Akagi), out at sea with a man-made natural disaster dimly visible in the background — less escape-hatch fantasy than hope in the possibility of an island.