Few things can annoy me like people who have no social etiquette; especially those who lack t in a movie screen. And so it was that I spent the first hour of Never Let Me Go being extremely frustrated at The Stupidest Couple in the World© chat continuously throughout the first hour, before getting up and leaving. Evidently then, this film isn’t for everyone.
I’m not really sure what that couple expected, and come to think about it I can’t really remember what my expectations were walking into this film either; I definitely had some knowledge that the three central characters (played by Mulligan, Garfield and Knightley) were raised as organ donors but that’s about it. Whilst potentially then we could have ended up with another The Island, what we’re left with is something far more subtle and character driven – and it’s all the better for it.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret here; when it comes to writing reviews of films, I’m not always sure what I’m going to say about them until my fingers start hitting the keys. I usually have a vague idea of major things I want to cover, but sometimes it doesn’t strike me quite how much I did or didn’t like a film until the words start pouring out – in this case, how much I liked Never Let Me Go has come as quite a surprise even to me; that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but now I seem to be quite enamoured with it. Get ready for some compliments.
A good place to start would be with the cast. Performance wise, it’s Andrew Garfield who really stands out here, although I do have to say it was nice to see Keira Knightley in a role where I was encouraged to hate her for a change. To say that Garfield’s performance was captivating would be something of an understatement, every time he’s on screen he steals the scene – even when he’s on the sidelines. He’s wonderfully shy and bashful, possesses a childlike enthusiasm and optimism and seems to lack self confidence in what can only be described as an extremely confident way; it’s my opinion that it takes someone extremely self assured to be able to portray someone this vulnerable. Whilst his character is primarily the driver in the relationship between the three leads; he’s never the one instigating the action.
If this performance, alongside those in Dr Parnassus and the Social Network are anything to go by, we can expect big things from this guy in the future. In just three films he’s managed to show a range that most actors would struggle to show in twice that many (that’s six for those who don’t fancy doing the maths).
Another thing to celebrate in this movie is the score. Whilst it doesn’t contain any hooks you’ll leave the theatre whistling, it’s impactful enough to really add some bite to the more emotional scenes and some hope to some of the more downbeat ones. That being said though, it is another of the more understated elements that’s great about the film; Alex Garland provides a solid script with some very emotive dialogue, the aesthetic of an alternative 70’s and 80’s is well represented on screen and the pacing of the direction doesn’t ever feel too slow or drawn out despite nothing much ever really happening. The subtleties ooze from every pore and if it weren’t for last year’s excellent Clooneyfest The American, I’d be saying this was probably the best deliberate pacing I’ve seen in a long time.
Yet another thing that I liked about this film is that there’s no real questioning of the lives that the characters lead or the society they live in. Alternate reality films (especially those set in dystopian societies) often fall into the trap of trying to have the lead characters be the ones to bring down the system. Not so in this case; there’s no revolution, there’s no ill advised escape attempt, there’s no bad guys hunting our trio down and there’s no (or very little anyway) reflection or commentary on the people who are on the receiving end of the organs; the film is entirely character focussed from beginning to end and its all the better for it.
I think though that if I had to pick one thing that stands out to me as what I liked most about this whole film above else, it would be the fact that the whole organ donor issue is completely moot. All the major emotional themes that are visited (love, life, death, mortality, fear, loss, regret etc) are universal and transcend the alternate reality our characters live in. Perhaps these emotions are more intense because of the very finite nature of our characters’ lives, but their approach to live, death and everything in between is essentially the same as ours. That observation may sounds trite, but it’s certainly not something to be underestimated.
Well that’s it, enough gushing; as I mentioned at the very beginning, this film might not be for everyone and I can totally understand any criticism regarding it being dull, overly emotional or too drawn out. But hey, I found a lot to like.