Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go opens with a scene of a woman staring at a man on an operating table. She stares at him through a glass wall and he stares back at her, a tear streaming down his cheek. It is moments like these that work so well in Never Let Me Go, a dystopian science fiction drama that is both tender and frightening all at once. Romanek's haunting imagery combined with some great acting acting really make this film work as a great adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's still greater book of the same title. While the pacing may be a bit uneven, a moving story with a purposeful emotional disconnection holds together quite nicely on the silver screen.
Without saying too much, Never Let Me Go is a story about what it truly means to be humans. That does not mean that there are aliens involved, but there are other science fiction elements that are subtly blended with complex emotions. The story revolves around Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy, three children growing up at a school called Hailsham. Hailsham is bizarre in many ways, but the children simply take it as it is. The children eventually learn a nasty secret about themselves from a teacher. Ruth (Keira Knightley), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Kathy's (Carey Mulligan) lives change forever as they suddenly learn to live their lives differently. As they grow up together, they experience sex, sadness, and love in unexpected ways.
Mark Romanek, who is probably better known for his work on music videos, has made this film look sad and cold. The cinematography fulfills the book's sense of depression through images of repetition. One especially beautiful shot is the closing one in which two pieces of cloth lie tethered, almost trapped, on a barbed wire fence blowing in the wind. The film's beauty lies in its color palette, which leaves out all primary colors. Romanek said in interviews that he borrowed the color palette from the excellent 1968 British film If..., a fitting place to borrow from for this movie.
The acting from all three main actors is very good. The performances probably do not merit any Oscars, but they are still great to watch. Carey Mulligan shines for a second time here, although her performance is probably better in An Education. Andrew Garfield, a fairly new actor, does well as Tommy, playing his character with all the strange mannerisms that he had in the book. Look for Garfield in The Social Network. He definitely will be one to keep an eye on. Keira Knightley also is quite good as the conniving Ruth, although her performance is nowhere near as good as those of Garfield and Mulligan.
The pacing of the movie was its biggest problem. The middle of the movie inches along a bit too slowly, whereas the book moved at a constantly brisk pace. Though the movie should and did spend a little more time on character development, it spent a bit too much time and could have easily lost fifteen minutes. The plot of the book has also been presented out of order, with the major twist revealed a half hour into the film. This will strange for anyone who read the book, for it makes the character development very different.
Never Let Me Go is sad, depressing, and interesting in many ways. Though it is not bound for Oscar gold, it is brilliant in its quietness. It may not be enjoyed by people who have not read Ishiguro's brilliant book, but fans of the book will certainly appreciate Romanek's direction and the performances of Mulligan, Knightley, and Garfield. If any movie could make you sad for hours, it would be this one, so be prepared, and bring some tissues.
As Never Let Me Go shows, coming into a person's life can be even harder than letting go.
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