Saturday, 26 February 2011

'Never Let Me Go' Review

'Never Let Me Go' (dir: Mark Romanek, 2010/2011), Cert: 12A

‘One Hour Photo’ director Mark Romanek returns to the director’s chair to bring us his screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘Never Let Me Go’, which was labelled ‘The best novel of the decade’ by Time magazine. The film sports an all English cast including Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley and has been on the receiving end of great praise, so this should be a truly great piece of British cinema, but can the American moviemaker create that?
 Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) have spent the majority of their lives together. As children, they spent their time at a beautiful and idyllic boarding school called Hailsham and through their teenage years to adulthood, they lived together in a small farming community. Everything sounds great, but what lurks under the surface of this charming exterior is haunting and harrowing. The three have to come to terms with love, desire and most importantly, loss, which is one of the few things they actually know; everything else around them is merely a facade of life itself.
 ‘Never Let Me Go’ succeeds in what British cinema does best, it doesn’t settle, nor does it conform. Rather than relentless ‘happy endings’ or ‘closure’, we Brits are far more cine-literate and understanding that not everything is nice, that in fact, life for the most part can be quite cruel and distressing. This film grasps that concept and paints the town red with it. There is no real resolution for these characters, only the fate that waits for them, the fate that was designed for them. From the film’s advertising campaign, the majority who haven’t read the book (myself included) would think on a first glance this was a typical British period piece, but actually Alex Garland’s screenplay turns this into more of a Sci-Fi with rural England as it’s backdrop rather than Apollo 13.
Still from 'Never Let Me Go' (dir: Mark Romanek, 2010/2011)
 Having said all that about ‘happy endings’ and so forth, I can’t agree with the masses about this film being depressing. I actually think ‘uncompromising’ is a better word. It’s true that ‘Never Let Me Go’ could be seen as a tough watch to some, but for film buffs, this is a stroll in the park, and a mighty beautiful one at that. The cinematography is exquisite and laps up every possible picturesque image of the British country and seaside. I’m incredibly surprised this film hasn’t performed well in American because they thrive of this type of imagery, but maybe this film was a little too ‘depressing’, I mean ‘uncompromising’ for them.

 This film however really relies on its cast, and it requires an awful lot from them. The film is set into three sections which are all relevant to a certain time period in the character’s lives. The first is set in Hailsham when the trio are school children, and for me, this was the best casting. All the children looked like mini versions of the older three which was refreshing and slightly bizarre too. Ella Purnell who plays young Ruth is a dead ringer for Knightley and got all her mannerisms across wonderfully. Izzy Meikle-Small (young Kathy) and Charlie Rowe (young Tommy) were also brilliant and had such a screen presence for basically unknown child actors.
 The adult casting was fantastic too; Mulligan was fantastic as always, and even though many say she’s a ‘one trick pony’, she’s certainly very good at it. Kathy is a loving and heart-wrenching character who is really brought to life by Mulligan’s soft and sensitive screen nature, it’s a marvellous portrayal. I found Garfield rather irritating as Tommy, but I’ve heard from people who have read the book that his performance is spot on and that he presents Tommy the way the book intended so I guess he’s a triumph too. I however think the star of the show is Knightley, in fact by a long shot. You can tell she’s being working in this industry longer that the other two by her ferocious screen presence and her ability to make even the kindest of words seem venomous. Knightley, who is the signature girl for British period cinema, proves that she is diverse and she gives an award-worthy performance here, shame she was completely overlooked.
 If you’re looking for a ‘happy-go-lucky’ Friday night film then steer clear of this one, but if you are looking for a reflective, emotional and chilling cinematic experience then take your seats now. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is unsettling, harrowing and above all, incredibly beautiful.

Heartfelt, moving and emotionally challenging, this is a fine example of great British cinema complimented by the steady hands of an American and an excellent cast.
By Chris Haydon

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