Never Let Me Go: For fans of Kazuo Ishiguro’s
dystopian romance novel, the good news is that director Mark Romanek – known to
the MTV crowd for setting a Michael Jackson video on a flying saucer – hasn’t
painted a mustache on your Mona Lisa; but the rest of us coming to this
chilling fable of kids cloned for reparative medicine may leave the theatre
wondering what the fuss was all about.
When first we spy them the soon to
be adolescent students of a rundown English boarding school, Hailsham, appear
to be training to be butlers and scullery maids – to be the emotionally
repressed characters of Ishiguro’s first novel, Remains of the Day -- complete
with flea market seedy school togs and, given their fate, almost laughingly
inappropriate lectures against smoking or junk food. Is this a Fawlty Towers
parody where we’ll see John Cleese wheeled in as their crabby headmaster?
These clone kids are given this
mock education until eighteen when they’re allowed to briefly experience a
“normal” life as residents of rural cottages, until they hit their
mid-twenties and start “donating” their vital organs until reaching
“completion” at around thirty.
Complications ensue when two of the
Hailsham girls, Ruth and Kathy, compete for the affections of a high strung,
frequently picked on boy, Tommy. Flash forward to the cottages and Ruth (Keira
Knightly) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are furiously shagging, leaving Kathy
(Carey Mulligan) to prepare herself for a short reprieve as a “carer” to buck
up the spirits of clones facing their final donations.
Most of the film’s emotional punch
flows from the soul mate like friendship between Kathy and Tommy who eventually
decide to explore rumors that Hailsham kids, who can prove that they’re
truly in love, may be allowed a temporary dispensation from their destiny.
Fans of the novel probably treasure
Ishiguro’s exploration of our own built-in obsolescence through these “die
young, stay pretty” characters who have to pack everything into a third of a
What plays on the page through a
rigorously muted, almost banally matter of fact prose style can on the screen
deteriorate into an overly reverential almost precious stunted drama that the
filmmakers mistake for anti-Hollywood high mindedness.
Never Let Me Go never quite
delivers the heart rendering epiphany that many of us would accept in place of
a tricked out, hyper-violent or Twilight Zone style conclusion.
The film is at its emotional zenith
whenever Andrew Garfield pops in his now patented “doomed” boy riffs. First
spotted as the haunted young man trying desperately to avoid a British tabloid
lynch mob for his complicity in a brutal crime committed when he was twelve in Boy
A, Garfield then proceeded to abscond with the first chapter of The Red
Riding Trilogy as a randy and callow young journalist who is ground under
by a brutal police crime spree in 70’s Yorkshire. The LA born, British
raised tousle-haired actor is like a club kid throwback to the days when
devilishly handsome bad boys made an addiction to low life film noir seem
almost a saintly pursuit.
A Garfield third act primal scream
almost saves Never Let Me Go from its fear of melodrama. You may also
enjoy this one for its last glimpse of a pre-Peter Parker Garfield, who is, as
I write this, preparing for his radio-active spider bite in the Spider Man
Little White Lies: German director Marcus
Rosenmuller gives the tweener, approaching their first film festival, crowd a
frisky good time with this over-plotted but still enjoyable boys’adventure.
It’s 1931 and the on-the-cusp-of-puberty students of a rural town’s academy
have separated into rival gangs: the “A’s” versus the “B’s.” Our hero,
Alexander, gets into trouble when his lie about the fate of a book he borrows
from a kid in the other clique kicks off a spirited bit of adolescent mob rule
that involves an overblown science contest, a missing parrot and ominous
machinery at an abandoned factory. An example of all the good young male talent
flowing into Germany’s revitalized film industry. (Embarcadero/9-25)