Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is likely to be in the conversation for several awards come Oscar season. This ambitious and eloquent piece features excellent acting, restrained and beautiful direction that pairs with a challenging and touching story, which results in strong entertainment for the thinker in all of us.
Carey Mulligan stars as Kathy H., serving as both as a narrator to the film and lead to a story that will level you in its depth of cruel emotion. Kathy falls in love with Tommy, back during their childhood at the boarding school Hailsham where she, Tommy and Ruth form an uncommon bond that will last a lifetime.
Hailsham is an odd place that confines its students to restricted areas, features routines of discipline and doesn’t take kindly to outsiders. When newcomer Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) is assigned to teach, she opens the students eyes and openly questions how the school is run, resulting in her ultimate dismissal. But what she unveils is an extinction level event for the story that has unfolded to that point in the film. The balance of the film takes us deeper into the lives of the three students and their love for one another as they discover more about Hailsham, their relationships and their depths of their souls.
This is an incredible love story and while that portion of the film is not unique, it is told in an original fashion with a wildly unique backdrop. There is poetry in Alex Garland’s script and Isihiguro’s story that is beautifully rendered on screen by Romanek and his fine cast.
While Mulligan is the standout star, new Spiderman to be Andrew Garfield compels as an off-kilter boy and Keira Knightley’s jealous sexpot is well-rounded. Romanek’s delicate direction allows the actors to shine and elevates the sometimes bleak material to poetic, artistic expression. The young actors who play the stars in their younger years, often insignificant, almost throwaway roles, really have an opportunity to flesh out their characters and generally look strikingly similar to their grown counterparts. Expert casting here.
Romanek, who hasn’t directed since the failed Robin Williams’ creep-fest One Hour Photo, returns with a vengeance here, capturing all the poetry the story can handle while letting the actors perform naturally. His shifting use of color strikes a strong counterbalance to the material, effectively easing the audience into the painful state where the characters reside. This is mature filmmaking that will be in year-end awards discussions of some sort; I am confident in that.
The film has elements of science fiction and fantasy, but is deeply rooted in human emotion and interaction. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy have complicated relationships within their seemingly simple and direct existences. The overall message is that our time on earth is precious and whom we spend that time with is of paramount importance. The film also offers up several questions to the viewer that might be revealed through its source material, Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel of the same name.
All in all, Never Let Me Go is not an easy film to digest. Its neither mainstream nor particularly uplifting, but it is both compelling and thought-provoking and well worthy of your attention. If they ever left, this serves notice that independent films are back – in a big way.