Fox // 2010 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 21st, 2011
"We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time."
One of the best and least-seen movies of 2010 gets a second chance thanks to a gorgeous new Blu-ray presentation courtesy of Fox.
I will tread lightly: Three children -- Kathy, Ruth and Tommy -- are all students at Hailsham, an incredibly prestigious private school in England responsible for raising very special boys and girls. Eventually, the children grow into young adults (Carey Mulligan, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Keira Knightley of Domino and Andrew Garfield of The Social Network) embroiled in a love triangle. When they are granted leave of Halisham and venture out to experience the world for the first time, they finally begin to question their lives and how to make the most of their time on Earth.
What a sensitive film. That's a rare thing in contemporary movies, sensitivity. And, yet, Mark Romanek's 2010 drama Never Let Me Go, adapted from a 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (unread by me), is incredibly sensitive -- perfectly, quietly attuned to every thought and emotion of its characters.
It's difficult to discuss Never Let Me Go without ruining its secrets (which the original ad campaign tried so hard to conceal, possibly to its own detriment. I would argue it was a lose/lose scenario: had they advertised what the movie is really about, they would have had no audience. Instead, they sold it as yet another British romantic drama [with Keira Knightley again, no less] and wound up with no audience anyway). What is actually happening in the film is revealed slowly and delicately over time, and in the age of the Exposition Dump it speaks volumes of the movie's thoughtfulness and maturity that it gives the audience credit to keep up and put it together. That can make reviewing the movie difficult, though, as it limits what I'm able to address and either praise or condemn. I can say that though there are elements of science fiction in Never Let Me Go, I would hesitate to lump it in that genre if only because of the baggage that comes along with it. It isn't really like any science fiction film you've seen before. It's a sad, beautiful movie that, like the best science fiction shakes you with its implications and, like the best tragedies, remains with you for days.
The movie that Never Let Me Go reminds me of most is David Fincher's 2008 drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in that it, too, is rooted in the same themes of love and loss and the cruelty of our fates in life. Where the movies differ -- and understand that they are very, different films -- is that Benjamin Button introduced a gimmick early on and never really managed to justify or, worse, transcend it, whereas Never Let Me Go introduces its "gimmick" (for lack of a better word) slowly over time and all but ignores it. The movie isn't interested in exploring the machinations of its plot, and it's better for it. Instead, we focus on the characters and the ways they choose to face their lives and accept the destinies that have been determined for them. The decision to experience this new world solely through these three main characters is what makes the movie (and, I would assume, the novel before it) work so well; by adhering slavishly to the thoughts and emotions of the three central characters, Never Let Me Go still manages to achieve a universality that would have been absent had Romanek and company attempted a "bigger picture" view (the way David Fincher did in Benjamin Button). It's so easy to imagine the endless number of ways that the film could have gone wrong that it makes me appreciate Romanek's humanistic approach that much better.
What keeps Never Let Me Go from being a masterpiece (at least upon this viewing, though I suspect it's the kind of movie that will only grow in my estimation with future viewings) is, oddly enough, that it feels too short. It's missing a middle act; we meet the characters and grow to love them just as we learn of their plight, and then the film leaps forward and loses the entire middle section in which we actually get to see them live their lives -- in whatever capacity that may be. I might just chalk it up to an issue of adaptation; Alex Garland's screenplay is good, but he doesn't have the freedom or breathing room afforded a novel. There's a push in Never Let Me Go to only focus on the "significant events," but because of the nature of the narrative, every event is significant in its way. Losing some of the smaller, seemingly inconsequential moments, or understanding how these characters change and grow apart over time, robs some of the later material of its power. There's some attempt to fill in the blanks and patch the holes with voice over by Carey Mulligan, but I still couldn't help but feel that the film needed more room to breathe. As it is, it's a haunting and sad movie; with a better-developed middle act, it would have been absolutely devastating.
Fox's Blu-ray of Never Let Me Go is, quite simply, gorgeous. Adam Kimmel's photography is beautiful and sad, and his outdoor shots rival would make even Terrence Malick proud. The 2.35:1-framed, 1080p image is rich and warm, mastered with excellent detail and stunning clarity, all while retaining a handsome, film-like look. It's a great presentation. The audio track is good, too, though not necessarily called on to do much. Still, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is thoughtful and restrained, offering the dialogue and narration in a clear, straightforward manner and filling in the surrounding channels with ambient effects and Rachel Portman's haunting score. Where the disc comes up short is in the special features department; anyone hoping for a commentary track from Mark Romanek or an in-depth comparison between the film and the book will be disappointed. There is a good 30-minute "making of" feature that gives a solid (albeit too brief) overview of the production, and that's the best bonus feature on the disc. The remainder of the supplementary section is comprised of different art galleries. There's one of Romanek's set photography, a slide show of Tommy's art from the film and a collection of fake advertising for some of the agencies in the film. The original theatrical trailer -- which at once gives away too much and not enough -- is also included. I do not envy the folks who had to market this movie.
Though I still contend that 2010 was not a banner year for movies, a friend of mine quite appropriately described the year as "top heavy" -- that is, that the movies that actually were good last year were really, really good and way out ahead of the rest of the pack. I can now include Never Let Me Go in that group of films.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Art Galleries
* Official Site