Rewatched Cuarón's masterwork last night for maybe the fourth or fifth time since it bowled me over in 2006. It came up in conversation with Joe post-viewing Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker; I can't remember the exact context but for me one of the things really missing from Bigelow's film - a fine film for the most part with a some very good to great performances - was a sense of visual splendor. It went a little too far for my tastes with its gritty "realistic" look - realistic is in quotes because this is still a movie and it looks the way it does due to the hard work of many professionals and this was a distinct choice made for how it would look; as much as they want it to look that way they didn't just point a camera and shoot. Like Dolly Parton says, "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." Not that the film looks cheap, mind you, but I kept waiting for some visual poetry beyond the tension Bigelow's able to rack up so effortlessly, and was ultimately, save a couple of shots of explosions in slow-motion, left wanting.
And for some reason that brings me to Children of Men, a film about war set in a crumbling society that manages mountains of tension at the same time as being a lovely thing to behold. The films are very different creatures of course, and are attempting very different moods and have very different motives. Children of Men has the distance, the remove of being a science-fiction story for just one example. But still I wish Bigelow could've found a place for a shot or two to take my breath away, she was almost there on a couple of occasions, but never quite. I just don't think that "realism" has to stay so entirely unpretty (that does not go for Jeremy Renner who goes a looooong way all on his own towards making every second of the film addictively watchable).