“Never Let Me Go” is a sad, graceful movie that strives to be poetry and narrowly misses the mark.
Possibly its shortcoming is because it was penned by bad screenwriter Alex Garland. His cliché-ridden and almost laughably premised “Sunshine” script was made extraordinary by good director Danny Boyle. Garland’s most recent, “Dredd,” was unable to be elevated despite some nice touches by director Pete Travis. “Never Let Me Go” is based on the novel by acclaimed British writer Kazuo Ishiguro and I feel like Garland is transposing the novel to script without really inhabiting the source material.
Music video director Mark Romanek directs the movie and handles the material very well. He places the action in a lot of nice looking, exterior sets. There is a pleasant colour scheme that almost resembles sepia tone and there’s some good music too. The only thing that’s missing, that would have taken this movie from a good one to a great one, is more emotional impact. The movie is a tragic romance and there are some very moving scenes but the romance doesn’t hit with as much force as it could have.
Another thing the movie does right is populate itself with likeable actors. Not the least is Keira Knightley. She gives a good, subtle performance here and she was undeniably good in a difficult role a year later in “A Dangerous Method.” Despite being nominated for an Oscar, she’s still thought of as just a Hollywood babe because of her striking good looks, but she has real talent. I think she’s trying to get herself into better and better roles and is waiting for that juicy part that will blow us all away.
This movie belongs to the alternate history subgenre of science fiction, which isn’t something normally seen in movies. It begins in 1978, where 20 years earlier there have been dramatic medical science breakthroughs that have allowed the average lifespan to exceed 100 years. Movies where kids grow up in the 70s always seem a little dreamy, so I guess the time period was chosen to have some of that ambience. The setting is mostly at a special boarding school and a few years afterwards. The kids at this school are all clones and born and raised for the sole purpose of organ farming. In their early 20s they start to make “donations” and die during their third or fourth.
We’re introduced to three kids: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth who grow up to be Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley. There’s a love triangle between the three of them and the fact that none of them have long to live is what the movie is really about. It’s a bit of an unlikely triangle though. Tommy is handsome but he’s also a strange kid and his inabilities at school make him easy to be labeled stupid. Guys like Tommy usually don’t end up with girls that look like Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley.
In a way, we’re dealing with easy material here. It’s easy for tragic love stories to be emotionally effective because the movie is taking something beautiful and breaking it. The emotional response is autonomic. But “Never Let Me Go” has sympathetic characters and an intriguing story to tell and I think it tells it well, even if it doesn’t achieve all it sets out to. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it.
*** (out of 4)
-All the Real Girls
-The Adjustment Bureau
David Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.