Staff Recommendation: Never Let Me Go

AV Technician Dave Petty Reviews Never Let Me Go

I’m struggling to know where to begin with this review. Not because the film is bad – far from it. Director Mark Romanek’s talent behind the lens has clearly evolved since his 2002 feature debut One Hour Photo, which was no doubt thrilling but hardly masterful. It’s more how best to describe Never Let Me Go, a film that straddles several genres so well that you can imagine the panicked marketing board meetings, “we got a great flick but we don’t know who the hell to aim it at!” – it’s little wonder it bombed Stateside. You could call it “period sci-fi”, but that really doesn’t do it justice. “A mortality morality play”, maybe? Damn this is difficult. Let me try and explain a little further…

Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) are young friends at a country boarding school, set in the rural English countryside of 1978. They live a spartan existence, being fed little information about how the outside world works (their genuine excitement at being able to choose a gift for themselves from a delivery of battered second-hand goods a reflection of their worldly naïvety). When one teacher nervously exclaims to her barely teenage class that “before you are old, before you are even middle aged, you will start to donate your vital organs”, it’s clear something is amiss – that we’re not exactly in our own world. The trio’s friendship becomes fractured, and it’s up to Kathy to hold things together as best she can. This is a dystopian Britain not a million miles away from the one envisaged in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, though far from being involved in a constant mythical conflict with Eastasia and Eurasia, the human race has deemed it palatable to conjure up a far darker proposition for us to tolerate, such is our desire for mortal perfection.

As with Black Swan which I reviewed last month, Never Let Me Go, whilst based on Kasuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, is in no way original – the medical topic it deals with has been covered in a number of books and at least one Hollywood blockbuster, though ironically even the blockbuster in question only just managed to scrape back its budget, which is sadly more than can be said for Never Let Me Go thus far. But a lack of originality does nothing to stop it from being effortlessly classy filmmaking, its appeal broad enough to cater for both the Merchant-Ivory crowd and a younger genre fiction audience looking for something a little more nourishing than the latest Transformers sequel. The three leads are all award-worthy, in some respects drawing comparisons with Bale and Wahlberg’s performances in The Fighter – Knightley and Garfield are all heart-on-sleeve emotion and drastic weight loss (Garfield in particular putting in a stellar turn which towards the end borders on the semi-improvised, such is his naturalism in front of the camera), Mulligan restrained and closeted as a ‘carer’, one of the lucky boarding school pupils who defer their organ donation for a prolonged period of looking after those who donate.

It’s still a difficult film to categorise, and as you can probably tell I’m doing my best not to give too much away – but Romanek’s sophomore effort was worth the wait, and I for one can’t wait to see where his next move might take him.