Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never Let Me Go (2010) – Review

Never Let Me Go is haunting, heartbreaking and seemingly against human instinct, and yet upon deeper reflection illuminates a truth about humanity – none of us has enough time, so we should make the best of it (which is much more poetically done in the film, versus the cliché I just wrote). While the film does have sci-fi overtones, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland do not try to warp their story into a sci-fi thriller (something that very easily could have been done, and something I suspect some audiences were hoping for), rather they are interested solely in their characters and their specific narrative, which benefits the film. Romanek made a very subtle film in that nothing is exaggerated or flamboyant – the look of the film and performances are restrained, the visuals are more and more dismal tonally as the film progresses as the characters come to terms with their stations in life. Though, despite the bleak tone that the film has, there is a beautiful quality to the visuals and the simplistic nature of the characters. They are to an extent completely innocent, though somewhat corrupted by the agenda of the outside world. They are raised in a utopian controlled society (though I would call it dystopian given the full narrative), groomed for a specific purpose only, one that is utterly horrific (the absolute disregard of the outside world for these people is best shown in Ruth’s last scene, they are considered soulless) and foreign to us, but they accept it and even take pride in it as noble work. A common reaction is why do they not try to escape, but they know nothing else. Sure, some very well may try to flee (as chaos is always evident even in the most controlled system), but that is a different story. We (and seemingly especially Americans) want to take charge and influence the outcome of our lives, rebel in a sense, which is why Kathy and Tommy’s acceptance is hard to swallow. But really, it is no different than what we do everyday. We make do with what we have. We often accept our circumstances. And in many cases, it is out of our hands, and even so we still find meaning and take pride in our work and lives. At its heart, this is a love story and about friendship. It is clear, even as children, that Kathy and Tommy should be together. But life gets in the way, as it often does for all of us. The little time they do get is a reminder to the viewer to take stock of what they have and what they want. Notwithstanding the sad tonality of the film, messages of love, friendship and redemption resonate deeper and have a lasting impact on the audience. The film is very powerful, as it stays with the viewer long after the credits role. Though as beautiful and engaging as the film is, it is not for everyone. Being more concerned with the characters’ emotions, thoughts and experiences, leaving the outside world to the imagination, the film does not have much action (leaving action seekers to feel bored). It is built on a structure of three times that these characters interacted. The audience sees the transition of the relationship of the characters, but again the film is not superficially over dramatic (as is the case in many Hollywood films), it is subtle, nothing is telegraphed, the viewer empathizes with the characters (especially Kathy) based on emotions the film evokes in the viewer organically (aka, the score does not exaggerate the drama, and the narrative does not explicitly pull on the audiences’ heartstrings for a artificial influenced reaction). Yet, the delicate approach that Garland and Romanek take can be lost on some viewers (specifically those not inclined for this type of film). Never Let Me Go may be a film full of sorrow, even shockingly grim, but underneath the narrative speaks to themes of love, loyalty, redemption, and the lasting message of seize the day, make the most out of your life and try to be happy.

Technical achievements: director Romanek and writer Garland have made an exceptional film based on what was commonly referred to as an un-filmable novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The script and direction are sparse in that they only gives the viewer the essential pieces and do not linger – something that is quite difficult to do well. Romanek and Garland took the novel and adapted it to tell their particular story and did not try to recreate everything in the book or be overly ambitious with their narrative focus – things that often make for not so great film based on good novels. The film, while being a take on the novel, is its own entity, completely separate and should be viewed that way. Romanek also succeeded greatly in putting together his cast and crew as they are all phenomenal in their work. Production designer Mark Digby does a wonderful job of both portraying the coldness of the outside world (Kathy’s apartment is so barren and sad), but also capturing the warmth of the characters. Cinematographer Adam Kimmel does standout work on the film. His photography is a treat and stunning. The score by Rachel Portman is also exceedingly good. She is able to deliver music that captivates the audience. The cast of the film is first-rate. The adult actors have small roles in the film, as the narrative is almost completely exclusive to Tommy, Ruth and Kathy, but Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins and Nathalie Richard are all quite good. The film also features child actors, who needed to be just as good as their older counterparts for the narrative to fully resonate. Romanek is able to get very good performances from his young actors with the standout being the work of Izzy Meikle-Small. She is able to do the heavy emotional lifting effortlessly. The film’s three main stars are fantastic. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley are both very good, but Andrew Garfield is amazing. He is so hopeful and innocent that his seems to be the most tragic of the three.

Never Let Me Go is an aesthetically magnificent film, full of great performances, but it is not a film for everyone, exploring the end message of live life to the fullest through a heartbreaking story of love and friendship. 9/10

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