Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Director: Mark Romanek

***

Doomed romances, whether in literature or film, take place against many different backdrops. They can be torn apart by war, disaster, disease or devotion to a greater ideal. It’s difficult to decide into which category enforced organ donation falls, which singles out Never Let Me Go from the start. Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed novel is brought to the screen with enough fervour and depth to satisfy, if never truly engage.

Opening in an alternate 1978, Never Let Me Go centres on three children; Ruth (Ella Purnell), Tommy (Charlie Rowe) and Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small) are all resident at Hailsham boarding school, a centre which educates ‘special’ children. As the three form an uneasy love triangle, their fates are being decided by the principal, Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling). They will eventually become organ donors and will die horribly young because of it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when looking at these pristine young faces (who are also good little actors to boot), but before they (or we) realize it, they’ve grown up and have moved on from school. Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are lovers, whilst Kathy (Carey Mulligan) can only look on, carrying a deep love for Tommy. They spend their days in a special residence, with limited outside contact, until such time as they are required for donations. This limited existence is captured well by One Hour Photo director Romanek, who has a clear eye for little details. It’s a pity the big picture gets lost along the way.

Ishiguro’s novel deals with complex themes and a long timespan in a most elegant way; arguably, Alex Garland’s adaptation was doomed to fall short of Ishiguro’s prose. A potentially fascinating commentary on bioethics is reduced to a backdrop against which to prop up a romance. The story leaps ahead years at a time, so the gaps in the backstory are left unfilled and the character development suffers because of it. That’s not to say the cast don’t give it their best; Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield are all excellent. Their tender naivete gives Never Let Me Go a needed boost, as the plot and pace threatens to grind to a halt. DP Adam Kimmel’s artistic lensing and Rachel Portman’s Vaughan Williams-esque score reinforce the beauty of the whole piece, but Never Let Me Go still rings false. Despite best efforts of director and cast, it only intermittently threatens emotionality. Never Let Me Go ends up feeling like its characters; well-made, but missing a few vital pieces.

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