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A Task of the Clones

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Alex Bailey/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fervent accolades greeted the publication of the 2005 Kazuo Ishiguro novel “Never Let Me Go.” Time magazine declared it the best novel of that year and went so far as to deem it one of the 100 top English-language novels published from 1923 to 2005.

In the realm of big-screen adaptations of beloved works, though, the cinematic version of Mr. Ishiguro’s story hews closer to the tragic “The Bonfire of the Vanities” than the transcendent “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland bring a collective heavy hand to this overwhelmingly morose rendering of Mr. Ishiguro’s dystopian allegory.

Carey Mulligan stars as Kathy, lifelong best friend to Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley). They’re three orphans who have been raised by the stern teachers at the British boarding school Hailsham, where they were fenced in from the outside world and subjected to endless harangues about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. A halfhearted love triangle persists throughout adulthood.

There’s something evidently off-kilter about the whole milieu, beyond the basic fact that it’s set in an alternate reality version of the 20th century in which disease has been cured. Treading carefully with spoilers, the explanation offered for the trio’s presence at Hailsham locks them into an oppressive inevitability that robs the movie’s depiction of their adult lives and triangular romance of any semblance of joy, or spirit, while badgering the audience with its grimness.

A well-acted, exquisitely shot cinematic death march, “Never Let Me Go” is hamstrung by a serious bummer of a premise that suffocates the production and leaves it too wrapped up in its self-perceived grand, conceptual significance. The natural lighting and warm interiors resonate, but fail to disguise the relentless, unvarnished “artistic” suffering at the core of the movie, which makes enduring it such an impossible chore.


Opens on Sept. 15 in New York and Los Angeles and on Jan. 21, 2011 in Britain.

Directed by Mark Romanek; written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Barney Pilling; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Mark Digby; costumes by Rachael Fleming and Steven Noble; produced by Andrew MacDonald and Allon Reich; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

With: Carey Mulligan (Kathy H.), Andrew Garfield (Tommy), Keira Knightley (Ruth), Isobel Meikle-Small (Young Kathy), Ella Purnell (Young Ruth), Charlie Rowe (Young Tommy), Charlotte Rampling (Miss Emily), Sally Hawkins (Miss Lucy), Nathalie Richard (Madame), Andrea Riseborough (Chrissie) and Domhnall Gleeson (Rodney).


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