Alfonso Cuarón is a very talented director whose mad skillz I had recognized as far back as 1997, when I saw A Little Princess (yes, DVD rental choices were scarce at that time). That film had spectacular cinematography and storytelling.
This film shows off mad skillz as well. Great filmmaking, good acting, great cinematography, good story... and .... somehow the whole package just doesn't work.
The problem might be that it's an annoying movie. They're trying to make some kind of point about politics today. I think. Right? Were they? Anyone? Because whatever current political message they were trying to connect to the story in this film -- that women can no longer have children in the future -- it just didn't come together. Michael Caine plays a political cartoonist that's friends with Clive Owen's character. In his house he grows pot, has a lot of "Don't invade Iraq" stickers, etc.. I guess he's kind of like a hippie in the 90s who still protests the Vietnam war. I don't know about you, but I ignore those people because they're insane. But this movie is in the future, so his hippieness is about something in our present, therefore it's meaningful. And then we have some people who are supposed to be good, but are labeled as terrorists, or are they good, or are they bad. Whatever point is being made here, it's jumbled and confused.
It's sad that the movie is so annoying because it should be recognized for the technical achievement of filmmaking. Repeatedly, Cuarón is able to pull off very long action sequences in a single shot -- with the help of deft visual effects of course. The first one, an action sequence in a car, is just awesome. I'm surprised people hadn't tapped Cuarón for an action film before, because what he does here is very effective. He also used an effect that I had prototyped in 2000 for a film, which was to have digital blood stick to the lens assembly in an action scene. Sadly, the director (not Cuarón, another guy) never got to see that because my visual effects supervisor wouldn't show it to him. However, it's used much more effectively in this movie. Cuarón leaves the effect on the screen for a single shot that's at least a minute. That's bold. He's a director that's not afraid to take chances visually, and most of those risks work out.
[Aside: I guess it's a lot like JFK in that regard. JFK is a technically brilliant movie, takes a lot of visual risks, but is annoying as hell. Oliver Stone is an expert at making those. Check out The JFK 100: One Hunded Errors of Fact and Judgement in Oliver Stone's JFK. ]
People either like or hate this movie. I like some aspects and hate others, but I don't agree that the movie is overrated because, on technical level, the filmmaking is very good. I agree that other than to appreciate the technicals of this film, there is no redeeming reason to watch it. If you don't appreciate that sort of thing and are just looking for a movie to entertain you, this is definitely not it.
JSS Rating: Borderline...Good/Good.