Never Let Me Go: A Beautiful Film That Never Quite Finds Its Soul

8 10 2010

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s award winning novel, Never Let Me Go features an impressive cast comprised of Carey Mulligan (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network). Beware: there are slight spoilers ahead – while I don’t reveal anything that isn’t revealed within the first 20 minutes of the movie, if you want to go in blind, come back and read the review after you’ve seen it. Here’s the breakdown:

Three students from a special English boarding school grow together, love together and must ultimately help each other come to grips with the reality of their predetermined destinies.

The Monkey: The tone of the movie is consistent and matched perfectly with the subject matter. Washed out, earth tones permeate the landscapes and emphasize the drab and predestined paths for the film’s protagonists.

Knightley and Garfield delivered amazing performances, despite being criminally underutilized. Knightley, as the manipulating, emotionally immature Ruth, gives her character a heart, despite her downfalls. Garfield’s performance as Tommy, coupled with his brilliant role in The Social Network, proves he has staying power – hopefully his dramatic roots won’t be overshadowed by his upcoming role in the new Spider-Man reboot.

The Weasel: The movie is poorly paced, dragging on in all the wrong parts. The children’s younger years are too quickly glossed over, not giving enough time to building the foundational relationships which ultimately form the crux of the second and third acts. Yet it’s these scenes that lag and languish, while the overextended adult years are paced more quickly. It felt totally backwards.

The relationship between Ruth and Kathy (Mulligan) was shamefully underdeveloped, which, in turn, left many of the film’s “this is supposed to be emotional” scenes weightless and ungrounded. Similarly, the relationship between Tommy and Kathy is almost nonexistent, making audiences question the validity of the movie’s latter half.

And while Cary Mulligan delivered a solid performance, it paled in comparison to her co-stars; yet she was given the vast majority of screen time, and watching her porcelain face cry for most of the movie gets tiring.

Never Let Me Go never quite figures out what it thinks about itself. Is this a haunting tale of resignation to fate? Is it a tale of struggling against one’s destiny? Is it a cautionary tale against murky morality? A story about what it means to be human, what it means to have a soul? The film is never quite sure, and neither am I. It tries to appeal to audiences by positioning the characters as champions of individuality, struggling to change their fate; however, the story’s best asset lies in the eerie lack of struggle, the resignation to fate and a disinterest in change. Never Let Me Go tries to juggle mass appeal while maintaining the true heart of the story, but does so unsuccessfully.

A quiet film, beautifully constructed and wonderfully performed, but ultimately, unsure of itself and its purpose.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Have you read the book? How does it compare? What do you think Never Let Me Go was trying to say?

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