I'm a little late to the party on this one seeing as how this film was released in 2006. It was on a number of lists of "greatest this , greatest that" but for some reason I never got around to it until I was mindlessly shopping Netflix late last night.
Now perhaps "Amazing sets and cinematography" isn't a great lead in but I say that only because I am going to stray from the pack and say that I didn't really identify so much with the underlying story. There are plenty of dystopian-future films out there and in my mind anyway, this story wasn't really better than the others. If anything, i found it to be overly vague.
As always I do my best to not have spoilers but I may slip up here and there so if you want to go in blind maybe just skip this
The year is 2027 and basically the entire world sucks now. The United Kingdom is presented as being the only nation left on the planet with some semblance of order and society. Because of this all the rest of the world is attempting to "break in" and Homeland Security has to work overtime to stop them. In the opening sequences we are introduced to how much of a police state England has become as we see mobile holding cells that contain all the refugees awaiting deportation (or worse.)
The main crisis facing the U.K. and the world is that the fertility rate among humans has been driven to zero and no one knows why. There are no children anywhere and the world is in the process of mourning the death of the youngest citizen on the planet, who was murdered at 18 years of age.
As mentioned before, the story is a bit convoluted as Theo Faron (Clive Owen) ends up being drawn into serving as a hero of sorts and while it constantly remains that the police state is the enemy, new enemies become friends and friends become enemies over and over. I can't really figure out what they are fighting for.
However, the fact that the story is a bit convoluted takes second fiddle to the absolutely beautiful portrayal of the future that director Alfonso Cuarón has provided for us.
Rather than have absurd futuristic outfits and dubious fashion choices adopted by most futuristic films (I'm looking at you Hunger Games!), we are presented basically with the world that we currently live in, just more dreary and with a few adaptations such as something that really made me giggle, motorized rickshaws serving as taxis in metropolitan England.
it's humorous to me because this is what Thailand uses for taxis now
About 30-40 minutes into the film it becomes a fast-paced action (sorta) movie in that our hero Theo is constantly being pursued and unlike many of Clive Owen's other roles, he is not a martial-artist bad-ass in this either. He is surprisingly, quite a normal person in relation to fighting / driving/ etc.
The action doesn't let up and at several points in the fast pace we are presented with extremely long sequences of pursuit that is all done in one continuous take using only a single trailing camera. This has the desired effect and at one point, some wayward blood ends up on the lens and the scene continues anyway - this was almost certainly not intentional but it kind of adds an element of "oh my god, are we still on the same take??"
See those red spots? They stay there for a long time!
After watching the scene and how complex the multitude of things that are going on are, it is easy to understand how even if the director was a little unhappy about the dots, that he would have decided to move on anyway... honestly, even if you don't watch the entire movie you really should see this one scene. It is more than 6 minutes long and according to Cuarón it took 14 days to prepare for that one scene and nearly 5 hours to re-shoot it. In that regard it is kind of understandable about how a little stray blood might have to be acceptable.
from the official Movieclips channel
I expect to catch some flack for this but the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same: I don't think the story in this film is particularly compelling. I didn't find that part of the movie very interesting and I don't think the plot is a good reason to watch this. However, the extremely inventive direction, action choreography, and just stunning settings (which actually were filmed in famous locations in London - no idea how they worked that out) make this film a truly unique experience - especially the several very long, single-shot camera sequences.
I've never seen a movie filmed like this before and that is what makes the experience so unique so I believe you should see it because visually speaking, i bet you've never seen something like this before either. It has a realism to it that other action films simply don't possess and honestly if it did feature the impossibilities that we constantly see in heroes in a multitude of other films, it wouldn't be nearly as good.