Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Never Let Me Go

What a damn fine film this is.  And a damn hard one to review, too.  Much like Catfish, saying too much is ruining the whole thing.  If you’ve been unfortunate enough to read reviews from the assholes at “People,” “Entertainment Weekly,” and other various media outlets, then the core drama of this beautiful film is all but busted.

Three youths become fast friends at a boarding school in England circa 1960.  But this isn’t your average school.  Something is different.  Again, to describe that “something” is to take the piss out of the whole thing, so forget it. 

At the age of 18, the trio of friends - the quiet, reserved Kathy (Carey Mulligan), the curious Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and the sorrowful Ruth (Keira Knightly) – are released from the school and sent to live in the quasi real world.  Even though they live in public, their lives are lived in a bubble, so sheltered from the way they were raised.

Most films with such suspicious plot elements hold out the big surprises for the final moments.  Not here.  Even as young children, the characters in this film know what is in store for them.  In short, you’ll know after 20 minutes of screen time what the big secret is.

So instead of dwelling on that, I need to convince you that this is a film worth seeing, even though you know next to nothing about it.

Never Let Me Go is based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s triumphant novel, a prose that “The New York Times” dubbed as one of the best of the decade.  And here, it is delicately brought to the screen by director Mark Romanek, whose only other film credit is the very good, very fucking freaky One Hour Photo.

What Romanek does with this film, on nearly every level, is breathtaking.  The film spans 25 years, but every time period is visually displayed in the same exact way.  Through sepia-infused cinematography and brown-muted costumes, the characters in Never Let Me Go appear as though they live in 1930s Britain, which is interesting, given that the film goes all the way to 1994.

The acting, on all accounts, is enough to get the attention of any Oscar voter.  By shedding some pounds off her already slender physique, Keira Knightly delivers by long and far her best performance yet, and Andrew Garfield excels as the film’s moral center. (Remember his name, he’s the second lead in Fincher’s new Facebook flick, as well as the rumored lead in the Spider-Man reboot.)

As I stated in my Wall Street 2 review, Carey Mulligan is proving herself as an actress of incredible emotional depth.  Never Let Me Go marks her fourth movie in which she has a substantial role, which is another way of saying that she’s stolen four movies over the past two years.

Now for the criticism.

The aforementioned reviews are having a blast picking and pulling and tweaking every little detail of this movie.  Why?  Well…

American’s, for the most part, like their cinema like they like their food: fast and cheap.  A lot of the criticism for this movie stems from the fact that not a lot happens.  Meaning there are no clichéd conversations in which every single problem is resolved in five script pages of dialogue.

So let me say this: something doesn’t have to be happening for something to be going on.  Inaction can still be an action.  Ever seen a Terrence Malick flick?  No?  How about Ingmar Bergman?  Still cold?  Try Jim Jarmusch, David Gordon Green, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky.  All have proved that movies don’t necessarily have to have action on the surface, for there to be something stirring underneath.  Look at Mulligan’s eyes in this movie, they say more than most actors do in an entire film.

And the other big thing: why don’t the characters in Never Let Me Go question what is to happen to them.  Well, that is simple.  Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth inhabit a world that doesn’t change.  They live in a world where their fate is their only option.  Escape isn’t a thought because… escape isn’t a thought. 

I haven’t been able to shake a single moment of this film in the time since I watched it.  It’s destined to be one of the best movies of the year. A


  1. This film is wrote by one of the best screenwriters, Alex Garland. (My opinion is that the quality of a film is given by the writer rather than the director.) I can say he wrote some great films: The Beach, 28 Days Later..., Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd.
    Have you interest in reviewing Ex Machina (if you'll like it, of course)?
    Also, you did a David Mamet profile, are you thinking too do a Alex Garland profile?

    1. I love his writing too. I'm actually seeing Ex Machina tonight. Really excited for it. Maybe I will do a post on him.