The Grouches got a sneak peek at Never Let Me Go, director Mark Romanek’s first effort since One Hour Photo. The film did the festival circuit and opened last weekend in New York and LA to very good business. It will expand throughout the country in coming weeks.

Never Let Me Go
stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as friends who grew up together at an English boarding school. But this school has a sinister purpose. How will that affect the three companions as they move into adulthood?

John

I accidentally stumbled upon the film’s secret before seeing it. That made me quite mad as I thought it ruined the film for me. But the secret turned out not to be a big revelation. In fact, it’s essentially the premise of the film and explained rather early. We won’t spoil it for you here, but I imagine the secret of the school will appear in plenty of reviews as simply a plot point. Don’t be too concerned about getting spoiled.

I really like the idea of a twisty film laying out its big secret at the beginning and letting the film be about the characters living through the secret instead of building up to a shock revelation at the end. For instance, what if there was a sequel to The Sixth Sense? What would Bruce Willis do with his time now that he knows he is dead? It could be interesting.

But Never Let Me Go isn’t. It wastes its premise by not doing anything with it. I could see it moving in several directions. It could have become a plot-driven thriller, like how Children of Men took its premise of a world without childen and spun it into an action film. It could have used its premise to explore deeper themes, like examining what it means to be human or drawing a corollary to real world issues. Instead, Never Let Me Go gives us a tepid love triangle and an understated plot that’s hard to care about because the characters are under-developed. We barely even learn what the characters think about their predicament.

I’ll address too responses to this film that I’ve heard frequently. One is, why didn’t they just run away? This actually didn’t bother me as there must be some pretty intense psychological factors at play when one knows one’s fate from an early age. But I’m only surmising because the film doesn’t explain. It probably should have because it could have been a fascinating topic to explore. Two is that the film left viewer cold and I’d have to agree. I didn’t really care what happened to the characters, especially in their love lives.

Carey Mulligan is great, but I think its only Oscar hope is in Score. It’s beautifully shot but I think it either requires more flair or it needs to be a better movie to be recognized in visual categories.

Jared

I really want to compare Never Let Me Go to another film, but doing so would reveal the inner workings of this film’s plot, and as John mentions, we aren’t going there here. Even though I don’t entirely understand his reluctance, as I don’t really see any way to spoil this movie.

The lightly dips its toes into a number of genres while delicately avoiding any semblance of a coherent story. I could be wrong, but I believe I caught one of the characters reading a Virginia Woolf novel. I’ve done my best to put aside the painful memories I have of reading her work, but one thing I distinctly remember from To the Lighthouse was a particular insistence on focusing not on plot, where chapters are devoted to short periods of time and then years elapses in a throwaway chapter. I had a similar frustration here, where it seems that nearly every important moment in the story happened off-screen. Which helped make it difficult to be emotionally invested in anything that happened on-screen. As did the consistently drab, detached feeling generated by the cinematography.

The premise is certainly interesting. And the film does raise (or attempt to, at least) a number of fascinating questions. But the dogged determination to avoid delving into any moment, feeling, or relationship means the movie never really takes the time to adequately ponder any of them. So I’m not entirely sure what to recommend about the film. It does present an intriguing framework and series of ethical dilemmas, so perhaps if that’s all you need to get the mind racing, you’ll be happy. Well, not happy, because nothing could make this uber-serious film crack a smile.

I’ll be honest, I don’t see how the film could make a play for any major awards. I obviously had problems with the script and the movie as a whole. In Bend It Like Beckham, The Edge of Love, and this one, Knightley is mining a vein of bitchy best friend that continues to surprise me. I really like both her and Carey Mulligan, but I don’t think their characters here provided much of a canvas.

Brian

As the last one to do my not-so-quick thoughts, I’ll keep this short, but I just found Never Let Me Go so blah. Had I been drawn into the character’s lives– cared about their love triangle, tried to understand the psychological damage heaped upon them — I might have cared about the end result. And had the characters been developed at all, instead of trying to mirror the slow and minimalist tone of the book (or so I’ve heard), I might have stopped trying to figure out the macro-ramifications of the world in which they lived.

I thought the title screen could have been the biggest miscue of the entire film. Without that knowledge about cancer being eradicated, and the average life span extending to 100 years old, the mystery of Hailsham would have lingered much longer and been much more engaging. The dystopian elements were so obvious to me from the start (though the specifics remained murky) — that I kept trying to latch onto Carey Mulligan or Keira Knightley’s performances. Children of Men is one of my favorite films of all-time and hidden in its heart-stopping tracking shots and escapist futurism is a thought-provoking philosphy experiment: What WOULD happen if all the women of the world stopped having babies?

Never Let Me Go tries to pull a similar trick by offering similar ethical/philosophical quandaries hidden in a love story — one that never materializes amid the pretty cinematography.

Jared said it best, all the good stuff happened off screen. And I’d give him more credit, but he went ahead and referenced Virginia Woolf. What the hell, dude?

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