Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Directed By: Mark Romanek
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley
Based on the Novel By: Kazuo Ishiguro

Having never read the novel on which the film is based, I thought the trailer for Never Let Me Go looked powerful, if vague. I think that's why I loved the trailer so much. Unlike most film trailers that give away the entire plot of the film they are advertising in under three minutes, the trailer for Never Let Me Go leaves you intrigued by how little it reveals. Well, for those unfamiliar with Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, at least.

The film introduces us to Kathy H (Carey Mulligan) who, in the opening scene is 28 years old and, through narration, is taking the audience back to the unusual events that occurred to the students at a Hailsham boarding house in England in 1978. As child, young Kathy H befriends two fellow classmates, the friendly but untrustworthy, Ruth (Keira Knightley) and the shy, awkward loner, Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Told by their headmistress that all Hailsham students are "special", they grow up without any family connections or a clear understanding about what their place is in society, having never been off school grounds. I remember Peter Howell's review in the Toronto Star and how he mentioned that the sinister Orwellian language with such words as "donors", "carers" and 'completion" all lend an ominous and unsettling atmosphere to the film.

The film is almost ridiculously gorgeous to look at. English landscape is always a beautiful sight to behold and, despite its dark and tragic plot revelations, it remains so. The colour is muted so that everything appears green or yellow; mellow colours for a leisurely-paced film.

Never Let Me Go is not your standard sci-fi film. Like George Orwell's 1984, it's not necessarily about the role of authority figures or government standards, but the human desire to survive, thrive and love one another. The film (and, I presume, the book) doesn't delve into why these things are being done to the students of Hailsham or how exactly they "came to be." It's just an accepted fact of life that this is the way things are in the world. Without the background information on the origins of Hailsham and other similar boarding houses, the audience is allowed to solely focus on the three central characters and their struggle to understand the meaning of life and their role in it, however brief.

The reason the unusual plot plays out so well on screen is because of the stellar casting. Carey Mulligan is one of the top five young actresses working today. She gives a lovely performance as Kathy H, giving her character quiet strength and sad, world weary eyes. Even though we know so little about Kathy H's background, it doesn't matter because Mulligan manages to make her so likeable and sympathetic. Andrew Garfield nearly steals the film as Tommy, the gangly and shy love-interest of Kathy H (although he settles for a relationship with Ruth). This is my first time seeing Garfield in a film and I was impressed by his stuttering, twitchy Tommy. I'll be pulling for him this Oscar season for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. There were two or three occasions in the film where I got teary-eyed and it was all thanks for Garfield and his performance. As for Keira Knightley, I'll be the first to admit I'm not her biggest fan; however, I was impressed with the fact that she chose a role different from her usual historical snarky-heroine screen portrayals. She actually gave a nuanced performance as Ruth, which is no easy accomplishment since Ruth is a difficult character to love.

In this early stage of the Oscar race, Never Let Me Go has a legitimate chance at some major nominations, especially considering we are in for another year of 10 Best Picture nominations. I just hope that, after all the other hyped films that will come out in the next couple of months, critics and voters will remember Never Let Me Go - a quiet, powerful, philosophical and compelling film. I hope it doesn't get lost in the chaos.