Never Let Me Go, directed by One Hour Photo‘s Mark Romanek, hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles today. With a cast headlined by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield, the film would appear to be a must-see for Anglophiles and award-season aficionados alike.
Adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro‘s well-received novel, Never Let Me Go tells the story of three childhood friends who come to a horrifying realization about their roles in their seemingly ideal society. Without giving too much of the plot anyway – and most of the reviews below are riddled with spoilers, so beware – the tale has been compared to Logan’s Run and George Orwell‘s 1984.
In spite of the absolutely deafening advance buzz, notices for the film have been surprisingly mixed. Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly grades the film a “C+” and calls it “a luscious-looking oxymoron, a science-fiction nightmare that unfolds in the civilized, painterly manner of a Merchant Ivory stiff-upper-lip tearjerker.” He adds: “Never Let Me Go is a singularly odd movie, because nothing really happens in it.”
The New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis also says that “your emotional response to the slow-creeping horror” will likely be “snuffed out by directorial choices that deaden a story already starved for oxygen.” She concludes: “Alas, what’s missing is the spark of life, the jolt of the unexpected – something beyond tears – to puncture the falseness of a film world, which, by its insistence on its own beauty, obscures the tragedy that the three characters, by their nature, cannot express.”
Slant Magazine‘s Ed Gonzalez is also less than impressed: “Romanek’s signature pop aesthetic, utilized to great success in the music video format, translates banally to the big screen. If this is artistry, it’s entirely of the Oscar-baiting variety.” (Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek made his name as a director of videos for artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Fiona Apple, Johnny Cash, and Jay-Z.)
USA Today‘s Scott Bowles says, “Mulligan and Knightley do fine with what they’re given, but the real find is Garfield, the only actor permitted a range beyond sad to sullen.It’s not enough to resuscitate the picture, though. Just as its characters need a reason to live, Go needs a reason for audiences to watch. Neither find much satisfaction.”
Reviews haven’t all been dismal: as mentioned yesterday, Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times calls Never Let Me Go “a moving and provocative film that initially unsettles, then disturbs and finally haunts you well into the night.” Time Magazine‘s Richard Corliss agrees, calling the film “poignant, troubling and altogether splendid.”
Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers is a big fan, praising “the visual skill with which Romanek creates this world, the delicate power of Alex Garland’s screenplay, and the stellar performances.” He singles out Andrew Garfield, whom he calls “mesmerizing.”
The Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morganstern‘s love for Never Let Me Go is a touch more muted: “For its delicate tone, provocative themes, impeccable craftsmanship and superb performances – by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley – Never Let Me Go earned my great admiration. I wish I’d been affected in equal measure, but I wasn’t, and it’s not the sort of film you can will yourself to enjoy, even though you know that many others will be moved by its tale of romance, class oppression and harsh destiny.”
Box Office Magazine‘s Pam Grady also gives a highly positive review, writing that “the drama boasts a stellar cast, exquisite performances and a tense atmosphere. It is a film that the author’s fans and lovers of mature, measured storytelling will embrace, and that may be enough to keep it in theaters throughout the fall season.”
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