To review "Never Let Me Go" requires me to spoil "Never Let Me Go," and I understand how delicate a situation that is for some readers. However, the "twist" of the movie isn't a twist at all, but a casual revelation that requires a modest readjustment of perspective. Still, I want to preserve as much of the experience as I can for curious viewers, so, if the delicate nature of this knowledge is a mighty burden, please do not read any further. Actually, one more thing: this is an exquisite, artful tragedy of a motion picture. A film not to be missed.
OK, now stop reading.
Raised in the remote Hailsham boarding school, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley) have grown up isolated from the rest of the world, learning about the outside through fragments of information supplied by a commanding staff (including Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins). For Kathy, the doldrums are broken by Tommy, a temperamental boy who gives the young, thoughtful girl hope for romance. Cruelly, Ruth comes to steal Tommy away, building a relationship with the boy while Kathy watches in silence, unable to assert her true feelings. Leaving Hailsham, the trio learns of their true purpose: as clones in possession of internal organs that will soon be medically harvested. While Kathy joins the "Carer" program to comfort the donors, her thoughts return to Tommy and Ruth, who reenter her life during the delicate period of protracted death, referred to as "completion."
Though it touches on the ethical landmine of cloning, "Never Let Me Go" isn't a hot-button suspenser, with Kathy tearing off across the land in an effort to avoid her predetermined duty. Director Mark Romanek (his first film since 2002's "One Hour Photo") instead turns the novel by Kazou Ishiguro into a searing funeral march, examining the three stages of consciousness found within the lead characters as they wander through time toward their mysterious fate. It's a troublesome tale of prolonged grief, but, in Romanek's hands, the story becomes something of hushed beauty; a handful of sensitive moments that explore the grasp of love and death, two experiences horribly perverted in this sci-fi dusted saga of medical achievement.
Primarily Kathy's tale of awareness, the film attempts to construct a durable triangle of commitment, with the threesome moving from classmates to lovers and friends, and eventually to donors. The acting efforts from the cast are marvelous, with Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley making meticulous use of their close-ups to communicate a specifically contained frustration in the lives of their characters, with added alarm coming in the form of rumors -- tales of donorship deferred due to love and artful gifts. Faint promises that help to fuel hope that the end can be postponed. The read of panic as the clones bite into life is spellbinding, with exceptional work all around, giving Romanek plenty to build with as he conducts the fragile tone of the piece. The performances take the material to another level, allowing the film to indulge its sense of distance while tapping straight into a potent vein of optimism as Kathy is soon confronted with an opportunity to retrieve what was taken from her as a child.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation sustains the elaborate cinematography, assuredly maintaining the pale atmosphere of Hailsham's interiors, while delivering the age and pure beauty of the exteriors, with visceral weather changes feeding into an evocative viewing experience. Overt colors aren't much of an issue here, with the palette preferring muted elements to reinforce the themes of isolation. Still, costumes and street life bring out wonderfully separated hues, with soft greens and blues contributing to the reflective mood. Shadow detail is strong, accurately reading the aged buildings and dark corners, while skintones are intentionally drained of life. Detail is crisp on characters, costumes, and set design particulars, permitting the viewer to read the frame in full, which is critical to a full comprehension of the picture's mysteries.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is such a lush, nuanced track, carefully wrapping around the listener with all manner of music and sound effects, creating a heavy feeling of emotion and dramatic development. Scoring is cleanly arranged, held back effectively while the front of the mix delivers crisp verbal exchanges, with all exposition supplied ideal clarity and weight. The big draw here is the atmospherics, with exteriors providing a meaty sense of location, with wind and water elements softy stroking the action. There's little in the way of power to the track, but dimension is felt at all times, gifting the visuals with a sonic care that fills up the emotion of the film. Spanish, French, and Portuguese tracks are also available.
English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Traditional Mandarin, and Cantonese subtitles are provided.
"The Secrets of 'Never Let Me Go'" (30:10) doesn't cover the film's production with an overwhelming scope, but the short time spent here is amazing, tracking the development of the picture through interviews with cast and crew, including director Romanek and author Kazuo Ishiguro. The BTS footage is illuminating, covering the shoot and casting, providing an impression of effort and artistry. The conversations are just as helpful, with the participants intelligently expressing their fever for the material and their faith in the filmmaker.
"Mark Romanek's On-Set Photography" (3:13) is a collection of B&W pictures taken during the film shoot.
"Tommy's Art" (2:35) takes a few moments to study the drawings made by the tormented, childlike character.
"National Donor Programme & Hailsham Campaign Graphics" (1:58) collects all the pamphlets and posters used to create a sense of the outside world.
A Theatrical Trailer is included.
"Never Let Me Go" is a picture of immense sadness and resignation, but those blue corners create a riveting sit while, ever so slightly, bringing an eye-opening perspective to the concept of human cloning. With films such as "The Island," the sugar rush was provided in the ultimate fight for life. "Never Let Me Go" accepts the end as the way of the world, softly shuffling along to a purpose, not a choice.