Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Review - Never Let Me Go

It has been 18 years since the last adaptation of a Kazuo Ishiguro novel which seems an inordinate period of time considering The Remains Of The Day was incredibly well received and garnered eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Perhaps the reason may be that Ishiguro's other work does not lend itself so kindly to the big screen.

Set in an alternative past following a major scientific breakthrough, Never Let Me Go follows the lives of Ruth (Carey Mulligan), Kathy (Kiera Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Forever linked by their childhood together in a seemingly idyllic British boarding school, the three come to terms with their reason for existence and their relationships with each other as their lives continue to interweave with one another years later.

Usually wanting more after 103 minutes of cinema means that the trip was a thoroughly satisfying experience, however, in the case of Never Let Me Go it was a desire built with bricks of frustration mortared together with a thick concoction of cinematic skill. To look for a fault aesthetically would be a fruitless task. It is crafted with a beautiful visual subtlety as it forges through time from the suffocating dusty dull green warmth of a 1970s boarding school to the oppressive sterile quadratic shapes of a mid 90s council flat. Likewise, the screenplay is equally professional and demonstrates an understanding of the understated splendour with which Ishiguro composes.

Mulligan is the stand out of the three leads. Given the advantage of the narrative being told from her character's point of view, she ably instils the depth required and provides a melancholic performance tinged with small joy and sorrow that is perfectly suited. Against this backdrop Garfield and Knightley are left to fill out characters that are at times difficult to understand (though that is part of their nature). The latter has her acting mouth on for the majority of the time, lips pouted and lungs ready to eject a dramatic sigh, if you were in any doubt that she was not planning on a dramatic performance.

So why the frustration when so many boxes seemed to be ticked? The very nature of Ishiguro's story brings with it so many questions and issues that in the written medium can be explored and explained free of the restraints of run times and production costs. Thus the film finds itself in a no man's land somewhere between The Island and The Notebook. Leaving the audience somewhere between compassion and confusion.

Just as it appears that we are about to delve into a tragic love story, we are whisked through time and given a run down of the ins and outs of this particular dystopian nightmare. The constant picking up of foundations and rushing forward puts an emotional void between the story and the audience. It is as if you are focussing on a distant object and just as soon as you can begin to comprehend what it is then someone kicks it further away. It leads to a final act that would be emotionally inert if it were not for a haunting monologue delivered by Mulligan.

Instead of confounding the notion of real love, it makes us question whether it is even a love story at all or just a look at the misinterpretation of emotions by those who have never felt them. That is the real tragedy.

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