Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate version of Britain, in which a mid-1950s scientific breakthrough has led to the creation of clones who can be harvested for organs, thereby allowing people to live well past a century. The story focuses on three such clones: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who grow up together at Hailsham, an academy that raises clones from childhood to adulthood. Of course, these three do not realize as children that they're being raised as spare parts, only being told repeatedly that they're "special." When they do reach adulthood, the three of them have to deal with the fact that they will not live full, long lives, as well as with the love triangle that has emerged between them.
With such an intriguing premise, it presents an interesting opportunity to ask difficult questions: if we could, then should we? Thankfully, Alex Garland's script doesn't do any heavy-handed exposition or questioning. We're never explicitly told that the main trio are clones, but it can be inferred. Instead of pounding us with explanations, the story is allowed to unfold naturally, which is refreshing. And we, as an audience, get to debate the ethical and moral questions that the film brings up, as none of the characters do it for us. I applaud the film for this.
However, the film is way too polished for it's own good. Rachel Portman's melodic score is about as subtle (and quiet) as a jackhammer, protruding into every scene as if to say, "THIS IS EMOTIONAL! FEEL EMOTION!" The film is also given a prestigious golden tint, the kind that implies that the film is Important and Awards-Worthy. In fact, throughout the film I couldn't help but feel that this was some lost Merchant/Ivory production from the early 1990s, finally coming to theaters (interestingly enough, another Ishiguro adaptation, The Remains of the Day, actually was a Merchant/Ivory production). Director Mark Romanek added too much polish to the film for it to really succeed, instead distracting from the film's real attractions.
Mulligan, Knightley, and Garfield
Those attractions would be the magnificent performances. Keira Knightley, who's usually not one of my favorite actresses, does well here as Ruth, particularly in the film's second half, when her emaciated frame is put to good use (note to Keira: please start eating). And Andrew Garfield's Tommy is an incredible creation to behold, as he plays him as a shifty-eyed, naive innocent who is forced to handle situations he is not ready for. Between this, The Social Network, and the Red Riding Trilogy, Garfield has had a phenomenal year. But the real stars here are the actresses who play Kathy. As the older Kathy, the radiant Carey Mulligan proves that she's a terrific actress who deserves to have staying power. She can devestate with a single glance, and as she finally fights her fate, she's so raw and powerful that you can't help but feel her pain. Then there's Isobel Meikle-Small, a surprising Mulligan look-a-like who plays young Kathy. She commands the screen with the same power, and shows talent well beyond her years. She's one to watch for in the future, hopefully.
Despite it's strong elements, Never Let Me Go never really adds up to a strong picture. I can't help but feel that it could, and should, have been something much better, but instead traded in for Carefully Manufactured for Maximum Award Wattage production. It's a shame it didn't believe in it's own merits.