Tuesday, 23 November 2010

CINECITY: 'Never Let Me Go' review:

It is a rare thing in this day and age to go into a film without knowing anything about it. Thanks to the internet's insatiable demand for new content, every second of every day, it is now fairly standard that we can find out almost anything about an upcoming film before it's been made. As a result we are seldom surprised. Barely a secret cameo goes unspoiled and by the time of the first trailer every set-piece or punchline has been revealed. It was a nice change then to walk into Mark Romanek's 'Never Let Me Go' expecting one thing and finding another.

Admittedly I hadn't been hoodwinked by an elliptical marketing campaign, but rather by my own prejudice. Watching a trailer or reading anything about Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, upon which the film is based, would have given me some idea about what to expect. But happily I went in blind and was rewarded. You see all I knew about 'Never Let Me Go' was that it starred Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley and I assumed that it was some kind of plummy, award-baiting British drama. How pleased I was to be proved so wrong by this dark and subtle dystopian sci-fi story.

I explain all this because it puts my appreciation of the film in its context. Had I been an admirer of the novel, or had I gone in with my expectations raised any higher, then maybe I wouldn't have found the film anywhere near as fascinating as I did. And as it was I did find it fascinating.

I am reluctant to say too much here about the plot of the film, in the hope that you might have a similar experience to mine when watching it. Instead I'll talk a little about how I feel about it. American critic Marshall Fine concluded in the Huffington Post that with 'Never Let Me Go' "what you end up with is a staid, lifeless tale that never talks about what it's about, or at least not enough to provoke deep thoughts on the subject." I couldn't agree less with that assessment personally. I think the great strength of the film lies in the fact that nothing is ever openly discussed.

Too many sci-fi films get caught up in their own mythology, or their own supposed cleverness, and end up just having their characters exchange cod philosophical arguments as the tedium mounts (step forward 'The Matrix' and, more recently, 'Inception'). By contrast in 'Never Let Me Go' Romanek succeeds in creating a mood which is at times quite affecting and lends itself to contemplation. Instead of being told what to think about the film's dystopian society we are allowed to reflect on it ourselves. In fact the central characters' refusal to really discuss the wrongs of their condition is quite haunting and lends an amount of quiet tragedy to proceedings.

The look of the film is similarly effective, as it is always at once picturesque and melancholy, with the pathetic fallacy of overcast skies throughout. The actors are also good across the board. I am not the biggest fan of Keira Knightley, but she is utterly convincing here, as is the ever-excellent Mulligan - though between this and 'Wall Street 2' she seems to be forging a reputation as Hollywood's go-to girl for on-screen weeping. Andrew Garfield, who I first saw and enjoyed in 'The Social Network' and who I am now eagerly anticipating as the new Spider-Man, is also very good, again playing a gentle and sympathetic character.

'Never Let Me Go' is absorbing, well-acted and raises a number of interesting ethical questions. Like all good science fiction it also reflects upon our lives now and - again, without wishing to divulge plot information - makes us ultimately question our own existence and sense of purpose. It manages to do all this without ever preaching or getting especially high on itself, and all within a well paced two hours which doesn't feel artificially drawn-out. Whether fans of the novel will feel the same, I couldn't say. I have read that the story's central reveal is made much earlier in this film version (presumably in what is, in all honesty, a fairly weak scene featuring Sally Hawkins) and it is possible that a later reveal would be much more raw and emotionally jarring. But all in all I was very pleasantly surprised by the film I saw.

'Never Let Me Go' is rated '12A' by the BBFC and is released in the UK on the 21st of January next year.

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