Art House Salad: NEVER LET ME GO
4 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic
I'm going to keep plot details to a minimum, not so much to avoid spoilers (it's rather easy gather what's happening and what's going to happen), but to preserve the austere, yet elegant, manner in which things are explained. Movie fans will get all the gist they need when I say that “Never Let Me Go” is the highbrow, art-house answer to Michael Bay's “The Island.” Based on the highly acclaimed 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”), it features three principal characters, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley), who grow up together at Hailsham, an English boarding school that shelters its students in a sort of Ivy League bubble for reasons beyond their initial comprehension. As time passes, feeling and truths emerge for the lead trio, but we never really leave their microcosm; it simply expands.
Unfortunately, although it is chiefly responsible for the film's ability to burrow under your skin, the overall passivity and somberness of the characters and tone hamper how it's received. Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) finds a sophisticated, frozen-in-time aesthetic for this British drama (it's set in a nondescript, alt version of the '70s, '80s and '90s), and the three young actors each duly deliver what's asked of them, but from the muted palette to the emotional squelching, “Never Let Me Go” leaves you feeling no intense reaction beyond the inevitable identification with its mortal ponderings. And the insular world of the film, while also lending itself to the characters' eerie lack of existential objections, forbids the possibility of say, a different perspective, even the slight presence of which could have provided the kind of dramatic gut-punch that never comes. The movie tiptoes to its own inevitable completion, and it's a poetic one, but the experience feels nevertheless incomplete.
*“Never Let Me Go” is now playing at the County Theater in Doylestown.