Friday, 25 February 2011

Film #17 Never Let Me Go

And now for Mark 'One Hour Photo' Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker-nominated novel. OK, so it's hard to synopsisise the film without giving away a bit of a spoiler - suffice to say it's fundamentally a film about a love triangle between Tommy (Andrew Garfield) Kathy (Carey Mulligan, winsome and lovely) and Ruth (Keira Knightley), three former pupils of the seemingly-idyllic but faintly sinister boarding school, Hailsham. The Britain in which it is set - the film can be dated from the registration plates of the cars, running from the mid-70s to the early 90s - is an exercise in alternative history; we recognise the everyday mundanities but once the key difference between their world and ours is revealed it could be an alien planet (or so so we'd like to think).

We know all is not well at the school from the start - the children wear electronic bracelets are afraid to leave the school grounds and so on, but the central horrific idea is only revealed after about half an hour. I won't give it away, but it really is an appalling thing, which in turn leads to the film being Some Bleak-ass Shit.

Carey Mulligan holds the film together - she narrates - and is developing into a very fine, serious lead actor. Andrew Garfield - an actor that I like immensely - is actually a little forced here and his gawkiness just ends up being annoying, which is disappointing. Conversely, Keira Knightley, who I've never really been impressed by, is better than usual, keeping her facial tics and staginess to a minimum. The support is good, though Sally Hawkins sleepwalks her way through as the teacher who tells the kids what's to become of them.

The plot does raise interesting themes, particularly about moral relativism, what it means to be 'human' and so on, and there is a shadow cast by the genocides of the 20th century (we ask ourselves, 'how could we let this happen?' but of course it already has, and much worse) but as is the case with so many adaptations of 'literary' novels, it fails to deal with these issues more than cursorily. Nevertheless, it certainly looks lovely (kudos to the location scouts who have found perfect settings, particularly the old school building with its lovely red-brick walls around the gardens) and is competently shot, cut and scored.

All the above make the film sound pretty good, and it is good - at least in a quantifiable sum-of-its-parts sense - but in the end it's good in a boring way (as opposed to, say, Black Swan, which is bad in an interesting way). It's an extremely depressing film with zero levity - and for a film to be able to get away with being so unremittingly bleak it must at the very least be profound. Never Let Me Go aims for profundity but, as noted above the film just doesn't have the scope to do this. One of the luxuries of writing and reading a novel is the time taken to wallow in ideas, build believable characters and so on. Films generally cannot do this and it's not a huge surprise that Never Let Me Go fails in its mission. It neither entertains nor edifies.

I commend the craftsmanship, but ultimately it's a: