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Friday, September 24, 2010

Never Let Me Go Asks You to Hold On During Its Somber Tale

Never Let Me Go = 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars
Miss Emily: Students at Hailsham are special.
Never Let Me Go is a moody science fiction film about love and death. While one not familiar with the popular book on which it is based may believe the film to be a dramatic period piece (which it rather is as well), yes, it is in fact a sci-fi film that really downplays those elements. In addition to this element, the film has a slow and quiet tone, aided by strong performances. Essentially, the film is a very melancholy sort of watch, but functions off an intriguing premise. I can say I appreciated it, but was not fully embraced in the ways it developed.

The film is not set in England, but not in the future. Instead, the film is in a sort of alternate timeline where science has come far enough to expand life expectancy. Our main characters, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy (played as adults by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield) are a part of a boarding school for a...special type of children. The film is divided into three parts, following the leads as young children, teenagers, and into their adult lives. During this time, we see them struggle to function, as they develop real world skills, form relationships, question the nature of how they were raised, and accept the stages of their development.


At this point, I think I will just detail the nature of these kids, as the film reveals it early on, but through minimal use of exposition. The kids are clones, who are being raised only to become organ donors, as they grow older, having parts of them surgically removed until they have nothing left or not enough strength to continue. The purpose of the boarding school functions as a way to learn if these clones have souls, which is a part of the main characters' journeys.

Ruth: We are modeled on trash!
After viewing this film, I joked about it being the serious, dramatic version of Michael Bay's The Island, which had a similar sort of premise involving clones used for organ harvesting. However, I am not too far off with that comparison, with the differences revolving around that film's use of its premise as a way to lead into a crazy Bay-style action film, while this film is minimal and never really emerges as a sci-fi extravaganza. Instead, this film is very measured in the way it explores its unique world, providing sparse details throughout, letting the viewer discover it for themselves.


The actors in this film are all quite good. Mulligan is the true star, as we see the film from her point of view. If it were not for how good she is as an actress, the voice over may have bugged me, and I probably would have enjoyed this film less. Knightely is good as well, with special notice for going to the crew trying to make her look plain. Very good is Andrew Garfield (future Spider-Man) who manages to imbue sweetness to his character, who, among other things, is a confused person. The one thing that does not help Garfield's character out is that damn screaming scene that is seen in the trailer. In addition, for all the things I like about the performances, the film does not do many favors in the way it rather pushes them into relationships. On one more character note, good work also comes from Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins in small roles as two of the teachers at the boarding school.

Mark Romanek, who previously made the creepy thriller One Hour Photo, directed this film. He certainly knows how to capture a sense of isolation, with wide shots of empty areas, and some significant moments that continue to capture the tone of the film. The original book by Kazuo Ishiguro was adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, a frequent collaborator with director Danny Boyle on films such as 28 Days Later and Sunshine. As with some of the previous films Garland was the screenwriter for, I think he tends to struggle with third acts. The first two thirds of this film are quite strong, but the end is an area where things become a bit shaky. I do not think I should be more specific than that, because I have already revealed quite a lot about the plot of this film.

As I have setup, the film has a very dour kind of mood to it throughout. Moments of levity will be hard to find here, but it is certainly a very deliberate sort of tone that is maintained throughout. It can actually be somewhat troubling in the way things are presented and can test ones way of enjoying a feature like this. I will once again state that I liked this movie, but it does put me at a crossroad for how to recommend it. It is a film for mature audiences, than does not pander to help one understand every detail, but that being said, the film does not lend itself to being thoroughly engaging throughout. Putting this and other elements aside, the film does have something to offer its viewers, and anyone still interested should go check it out.
Miss Lucy: None of you will do anything except live the life that's already been set up for you.

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