Thursday 10 February 2011

Never Let Me Go review (The List, Issue 676)

The students of Hailsham boarding school are special: set apart from normal society, they are being prepared for an unspecified purpose. No further details are apparent, to them or us, as this story begins, and to divulge more would take away the unique surprise of this ambitious and often beautiful film from Mark One Hour Photo Romanek. Never Let Me Go is an interesting collision of genres. Looking to all intents and purposes like a traditional period drama, it is actually closer to science fiction in its bleak tone and existential theme.

Divided into three sections, each marked by understated title cards displaying the years 1978, 1985 and 1994, the film follows the ill-fated love-triangle that develops between three Hailsham students, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield), from their uniquely sheltered childhood through to their integration into the world as young adults.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s oblique source novel was concerned more with examining his characters’ interior lives than explaining the alternate reality his story takes place in, and Romanek and his able team of collaborators wisely resist trying to fill in the blanks. Writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later…, Sunshine) does an excellent job of translating the limited perspective of Kathy’s narration in the novel into something that works on film; the three main characters, and their different ways of understanding the life carved out for them, are brought more sharply into focus with each jump forward in time, so that when the emotional punch finally comes, it hits hard.

Romanek’s film is draped in sadness, from the aching tones of Rachel Portman’s piano score to cinematographer Adam Kimmel’s muted visual palette. But it’s a sadness that will be familiar, and in some way edifying to an audience, due to the deeply felt performances of Mulligan and Garfield. These two young actors have deservedly risen to the top of the pile in the last 18 months, and as Kathy and Tommy, two doomed souls finding each other in the little time they have, they are inspiring; a call to catch love while you can.

Never Let Me Go is on general release from Fri 11 Feb. This review first published in The List magazine.

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