Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins
Alex Garland, Kazuo Ishiguro (Novel)
The Secrets of Never Let Me Go
Mark Romanek's On-Set Photography
National Donor Programme & Hailsham Campaign Graphics
It's a shame that the majority will not venture outside of your cinematic comfort zones to catch Never Let Me Go, one of 2010's best acted film's based upon a masterful novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
We are introduced to Kathy, Ruth and Tommy in 1978 as preteens as Hailsham, a seemingly highbrow yet otherwise ordinary British boarding school.
Tommy is the shy one who is awkward in virtually all ways and prone to fits of rage when he can no longer cope with feeling like an outcast.
Ruth is already quite beautiful, quite popular and more prone to quietly seething jealousy and a bit of a taunting personality.
Kathy, also the narrator of the film, is Ruth's best friend and the naturally compassionate one who seems to easily intuit the feelings of others and responds quite naturally in comfort. She harbors feelings for Tommy, he mostly prospers within her maternal instincts.
We catch on rather early on that despite what initially seems like an ordinary British boarding school, Hailsham is anything but ordinary and these three youths aren't living lives anywhere near ordinary.
Before long, a new teacher, against all policies and procedures, reveals to them their true purpose and collective destinies in life. Of course, this teacher is quickly removed from Hailsham and life goes on. Flash forward to their late teens, the three are sent off to live in the "cottages" to prepare for a precious few years of faux adulthood masking their future participation within the National Donor Program, a program that, as the story goes, has wiped out all diseases and resulted in the majority of citizens now living well past the age of 100.
There is no choice in the matter. The three are among many who are essentially bred to live their lives under the sheltered care and watchful eye of a nation that has raised them solely for the purpose of harvesting hope for the remainder of its more "human" humans.
It is a difficult task to capture the reserved and measured world in which these children are raised, yet for the most part director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) is up to the task and benefits from having a fine trio of leading actors to work with and, in fact, a surprisingly strong younger trio of actors who portray Kathy, Tommy and Ruth as youngsters.
It is rather rare that three child actors so beautifully set the tone for the adult future of their characters, yet such is the case in Never Let Me Go as Charlie Rowe is vulnerable and heartbreaking as the fitful and troubled Tommy, Ella Purnell is innocently seductive and confused as a young Ruth and Izzy Meikle-Small is absolutely astounding in manner and tone, essentially a young Carey Mulligan, as the caring and sensitive Kathy.
By the time we are introduced to Tommy (Andrew Garfield, Social Network), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan), their futures have already been set and their younger counterparts have painted their personalities perfectly. The transition from youth to adulthood is so natural and authentic that the story itself becomes even more heartbreaking and deeply felt.
There were several moments in Never Let Me Go that reduced me to tears, causing me to reflect long after the closing credits had rolled by upon the lives of these three and how they intertwined with such rich humanity despite the subtly inhumane circumstances in which they were living out their lives.
The adult cast is exquisite, most notably Andrew Garfield's unforgettable and occasionally haunting portrayal of Tommy as a young man who never quite seems to grasp the world in which he lives and Mulligan's more refined yet no less impactful turn as a "carer," whose life as a donor is put off for a few years so that they can provide compassionate companionship to those who are actively donating until what is termed "completion." While she receives top billing in the film, Keira Knightley is the film's weaker link. As Ruth spirals into the donor program, Knightley's portrayal of a weakening Ruth remorseful for her separating the destined Tommy and Kathy feels a touch manufactured and lacks the naturalness of the remainder of the film.
Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins shine, as well, in supporting roles and are particularly powerful in a closing scene as the film begins to wind down.
So, too, there are at least a couple spots in the film that feel a tad rushed and don't quite convince. For example, when it is so clear that all three of the characters have figured out virtually every aspect of their future and the falseness of most of the rumors they'd heard at Hailsham why would they continue to hold onto some vague notion that proving they were in love could result in a "deferral?"
Minor performance issues with Knightley and modest story concerns aside, Never Let Me Go is a powerful and unforgettable film featuring a fine trio of young actors, an emotionally involving story with a near perfect blend hinting of science fiction with rich emotion and remarkable camera work from Adam Kimmel.
Surprisingly, Romanek remains faithful to Ishiguro's literary vision and avoids Americanizing the story into a neatly wrapped cinematic package with a Hallmark greeting ending. Instead, we are treated to a profound journey involving three "people" never given the opportunity to realize how fully human they really were.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic