- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by David Medsker
alking about “Never Let Me Go” is a lot like talking about Fight Club – you’re not supposed to do it, lest you give away its Big Surprise and ruin it for everyone. But the movie’s trailer makes it look like a ‘70s version of “The Remains of the Day” – and to be fair, we can see why the studio would do that, since both stories share the same author – and we cannot go along with the ruse, spoilers be damned. (You’ve officially been warned: if you do not want to know the movie’s hidden agenda, stop reading now and go check out Jason Zingale’s fantastic review of “The Social Network” instead.)
Still with me? All right, here we go.
“Never Let Me Go” is actually science fiction disguised as a period piece. Think “The Island,” with more character development and less shit blowing up. It’s a terrific premise, but it has less of an emotional payoff than it should have. This is where those Merchant/Ivory-esque trailers will do the movie harm – people will expect their hearts to break at the end, and rightly so. But they won’t.
The movie is narrated by Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), a “carer” who’s looking after her current donor. Kathy begins to reminisce about her childhood at the Hailsham boarding school in the late ‘70s, and her friendships with Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). One day, their new teacher Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) drops a neutron bomb on the students when she informs them that their sole purpose for being is to serve as organ donors for people in the outside world. Upon graduation, the three are moved to The Cottages, at which point Ruth and Tommy are dating, though Tommy has carried a torch for Kathy from day one, and vice versa. Before long, all three have to come to terms with who they are, why they’re here, and what they’re going to do with the precious little time they have left.
Look at that lead character’s name again. Kathy H. No last name, just an initial. Big, big clue that Kathy and her friends are “different.” From there, though, the movie’s rather coy about the whole process of this parallel universe (it may look like the world in which we live, but it is definitely not), and that is one of the drawbacks. The students have a theory on where they came from, but the movie does not confirm or deny it. There is no talk of any of the students rebelling or running away, and we don’t know if that’s because they have tried and failed, or if they were too scared by the gruesome urban legends to try. The faculty raises these children to be automatons, and they do such a good job that it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in any of them, which is odd considering everything about their lives reeks of tragedy.
Mulligan comes the closest to breaking down the emotional barrier. Her Kathy is reserved and well-mannered, but you can sense her suffering whenever she looks at Ruth and Tommy. Knightley, frail and gaunt by design, is the most complicated of the three. She loves Kathy, but she loves getting her way with Kathy more. This makes her quite unlikable, but that just means that Knightley is doing it right. Credit also goes to the children who play the three leads during the Hailsham years. All of them were quite good, particularly Izzy Meikle-Small as the young Kathy. Her scene on the bed swooning to the music is at once tender and heartbreaking.
“Never Let Me Go” is one of the more original movies you’ll see this year. It’s well made, well acted and blessed with a beautifully melancholy score, but the lack of emotional heft proves to be deadly. Still, as near misses go, it’s the kind of “mistake” we’d like to see Hollywood make more often.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
There are only a handful of extra features for "Never Let Me Go" – which is understandable, given its disappointing box office draw – but the stuff they provide will thrill the film's fans. There is one 30-minute featurette that features interviews with all of the principal cast, producer, director, screenwriter and a good chunk of author Kazuo Ishiguro, and they cover everything from the book, to the set design, to how uncanny the resemblances are between the child actors and their grown-up counterparts. Everything else is brief, including the series of on-set photos taken by director Mark Romanek, the artwork assembled on behalf of Tommy's character, and a series of ads supporting the National Donor Council, made all the more watchable thanks to Rachel Portman's score in the background.