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Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in

"Never Let Me Go" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Any novel Time Magazine lauds as the best of the decade puts pressure on any writer assigned the task of making a film script of it.

Unfortunately, that's how it's happened for "Never Let Me Go," Mark Romanek's ("One-Hour Photo") latest film. The script was written by Alex Garland and Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the successful 2005 novel.

Are there too many films that issue from best-selling novels not written for moviegoers who haven't read the book? I vote "yes" on that. I guess that's why "Never Let Me Go" didn't grab me.

When going to a movie, I want to know as little as possible about it, especially in terms of the story; where it goes or what it's doing and saying. Taking in the experience as it might unfold on a blank page or, in this case, a blank movie screen, can give sustenance to a night out at the cinema.

Since "Never Let Me Go" is science-fiction history: something out of the recent past about what might lie in our futures, as a society, it's helpful for the photoplay to establish that the "history" shown puts the players in a dystopian world. You know, some allusion that the country in which the narrative travels occurs in, say like, Oceania or another familiar literary location that represents one more chilling example of human heartlessness; and if not, that the awful dystopian reality of the characters' fates are related in such a way that keeps one sitting somewhere not far from the edge of his or her seat. Maybe Mr.Ishiguro's book does that, but the movie sure as hell doesn't.

To the outside observer of a tale like "Never Let Me Go" as it relates cinematically, a couple of questions came to my mind. Why don't the victims of the piece just walk away from the impending doom they face? And, why isn't the story set in the future, minus all the futuristic bells and whistles one might expect in, say, 2067? "Gattaca" did that and was appealing to the young.

Or do the mood and method of the middle 20th century, instead, accrue to the filmmaker's need to make it so veddy British with all those stiff upper lips of suffering clones of young people taking it on the chin for a more important societal need than their personal existence?

Kathy (Cathy Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield*) are shown as youngsters at a veddy propuh private school called Hailsham. Surely this edifice isn't a filmic parallel to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is it?

Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley

Could it be the officious headmistress, Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) is a witch, like Christine O'Donnell claims she once was? Maybe Miss Emily is, but, watching the movie, she seemed like a headmistress to me.

I don't want to appear too cynical here, but the message of "Never Let Me Go" is: how human human clones can be with all their teenage angst and vigor in the face of their lives being cut short in young adulthood so their organs can be, over a brief, few years donated to infirm non-clones of the land. I think that's a good notion to ponder, in terms of a person or a person's clone being subjected to the will of the state or The Crown, or whatever you want to call it.

But is it necessary to make it into a veddy, dreary soap opera, knee deep in surging hormones, to tickle the fancy of a 17-year-old boy and girl out on a date? The message needs oompf. And the young characters need to be less wussy-like, lose their wistful gazes and discard the over dramatic. You'd think these three excellent young actors were in a tragedy of Shakespeare's, for godsake.

What's in store for them is tragic, yes, of course, but a handle needs to be gotten on the hackneyed sweep of the beautiful landscapes and cinematography of this film. I don't remember seeing any of Orwell's characters in the 1984 film, "1984," behaving as other than people nigh onto caged animals dodging the totalitarian goons of Big Brother whether it related to merely thinking their own thoughts, having private sex with a consenting adult, or what have you.

I'm at peace making this indictment of "Never Let Me Go," the film, because I've long been a staunch admirer of the great English tradition of fine acting, on stage and screen. I put it to you bluntly: some of the best actors I've seen are English and Australian. I'm on their side, but I can't side with "Never Let Me Go," although I find good reasons to tell its story as invaluable as one about the summary execution of a single citizen, clone or not.

On a lighter note, if this film had been made to include people of other ages than just the main characters...the song put to the soundtrack for Kathy to swoon to, alone in her room, would have been Nat "King" Cole's singing of a lovely ballad from the mid 20th century called, "Never Let Me Go."

* Mr. Garfield is also being seen now as Eduardo in that other movie to open this weekend called, "The Social Network."

"Never Let Me Go" official site.

Now in limited release. See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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