Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Never Let (This Piece of) Me Go

It's hard not to lose your heart a little to Never Let Me Go at the start. Carey Mulligan, making good on that An Education promise, stares through you with big caring soulful eyes. She even confirms that look with dialogue about being a "carer". Andrew Garfield stares back, through glass, with an uncomplicated smile on his face. He's prone on an operating table and obviously in need of her caring. Never Let Me Go uses a definitive plea as title. Not to be to cruel when faced with so much neediness but can we do some haggling first? May we keep parts of you and discard the rest? Never Let This Piece of Me Go? Consider it a deal.

Cathy H, Tommy D, and Ruth ???

I'd personally like to keep the actors. I've even written up a "Best in Show" column on Andrew Garfield for Tribeca Film. The set decoration has its moments, too. I'll even keep the screenplay so long as I can jettison at least a third of Cathy H's redundant narrated bits and a truly atrocious final speech which ruins the heartbreak of the scene preceding it. You know the type of final speech I'm talking about "Let me spell out the theme for you in case you were two hours late to the movie or took a really long bathroom break." The narration is actually a bit baffling for a film that does, in fact, trust you to fill in some of the blanks. If you're trusting the audience to infer meaning on several occasions, haven't you already decided your audience is a smart one?

More than any film this year, I want to fuss with everything. The first donation needs to be Rachel Portman's score. Give that away immediately. One can half imagine the creative meetings "This is the climax of the film. Make it important." ...only they forgot to mention which scene. The score even treats transitional bits like cars pulling up to buildings as perfect moments to remind you that this is an ominous dystopian tale that is Breaking Your Heart. For all of the inherent power in Never Let Me Go's compelling premise, clever images and nuanced performances -- that seems to be the exhausting directorial mantra for the entire creative team: 'this is the climax, make it important!' But not every scene can be a climax - just as with life, they only happen once. C+

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20 comments:

Joe Reid said...

Wow. The score and the voiceover bumps it down that far, huh? It's weird, I'd heard good things about the score before seeing the movie and terrible things about it afterwards, and yet I can't for the life of me remember anything about it, or hearing it at all.

Marsha Mason said...

The best part of the excellent novel, for me, and I think most critics, was Kathy's heartbreaking narration. But I can see how, with images and scenes accompanying it all, that narration would seem redundant.

And I don't remember a spelling-it-out bit at the end, either. (Time for a final edit?)

NATHANIEL R said...

marsha -- well, narration in novels is part for the course since it's a literary trope and a literary medium. I didn't mind it as much as I was expecting but i just think it was redundant.

joe -- the score and the PRESTIGE of all scenes (no natural ebb and flow of potency... just ALL earnest drama) made it feel stiff and heavy to me -- those were the two things that just made it blah to me. but the performances did get to me. i can take or leave the voiceover (but hate the final narration)

Murtada said...

Oh Nathaniel we disagree. I loved it and even liked the narration and the score. I agree on the earnestness though it didn't spoil it for me.But it could just be because I love Ishiguro's book and thought they did well adapting it.
Check my review here : http://www.filmmisery.com/?p=4195

Ryan said...

I didn't hate it...I'd probably rate it about the same. I did actually like the score itself, but maybe not how it was used in the film as you described.

I had a problem with the adaptation. What I loved about reading the book was the flow; the movie spelled everything out too quickly and wasn't cohesive. It felt jarring, but I was probably irritated by the "artistic" changes they made, like changing a crucial part in the book (The scene when she listens to the tape the first time)

I felt Ruth shortchanged in the movie too; I wish they had actually followed the book more here. I wasn't expecting a carbon-copy of the novel's plot, but at least some justice. I feel there was none.

gabrieloak said...

Boy you really hated it. I thought the film didn't quite succeed in developing the characters but I liked most of the film, particularly the acting. And the last scenes with Kathy and Tommy are so moving. I also thought the score was beautiful. I agree the last part of the narration was unnecessary. Perhaps they should have shown us Kathy giving her first donation, that would have been awful to watch.

The Pretentious Know it All said...

I'm of two minds about the score. I agree that it's too communicative and swelling, especially in the film's bigger moments. Musically, it's beautiful. It's weird. The film is better without the score and vice versa, the same is true.

Regarding the film, it's kind of a solid B for me. It's ponderous script is saved by the acting (incredibly affecting, particularly Keira Knightley). I think it's a shame that no one (the screenwriter, director nor the editor) saw that it was possibly a mistake to bookend the film with the shot of Kathy looking at Tommy on the operating table. It's not a "twist" film at all, but it kind of sucked a lot of potency out of the film's final scenes. Even if they had just shown Kathy watching sorrowfully without seeing what she's looking at. Carey Mulligan has incredibly communicative eyes...trust her. At any rate, I enjoyed it. And perhaps I'm going easy on it because I went in fully expecting a "prestige" adaptation something more akin to say The Lovely Bones (though admittedly, Romanek had much more to work with in terms of quality source material).

cal roth said...

What about Oscar? How far will it go? Is my girl Carey getting a second nomination?

NATHANIEL R said...

cal -- i'd be really surprised if it wins Oscar nominations apart from maybe Score. They like ever present scoring. Not because it's not good but because i just don't think it will have the staying power and the people who like it don't seem like they like it enough to fight for it, you know?

gabrieloak -- i didn't hate it. a C+ is a toss up grade for me. like you should see it if you want to, it's not bad. but no, i didn't love it at all. I did really love carey & andrew though (and if you read the BEST IN SHOW article, you'll see my happiness about Garfield's performance)

Hal said...

Good review, definitely agree.

As awkward as this is to say, I think I would've liked this had I not already seen Michael Bay's 'The Island.'

Leigh said...

How is Keira Knightley? Any chance of a nom in the weak BSActress?

Arkaan said...

Yeah, this isn't a "hate" review by any means. It's very measured, actually.

Andrew R. said...

I'm not suprised, based on the reviews.

Unrelated note: Full-length trailer for Tangled is out. It's slightly better...emphasis on the slightly.

Scott said...

hi all. i've just finished reading this book for the first time (on the advice of a fellow blogger in fact). i'm still weeping over it. is the film really that different? i don't want my memories of this book tainted but i've been dying to see this and it'll be a shame if something such as narration and score ruin the rest of the film. any thoughts on this? and where the hell is it playing in NYC? all i can find so far is 42nd street and i hate that theater.

Kev said...

Oh honestly. I wanted this film to be great. I'll see it for myself to properly judge it, but the book is so spectacular, and I was hoping against hope that the film would translate well. Everything's there for that to happen. The cast, content, techs, director. Oh well. Hope at least one of the three mains can pull off a nomination.

Ryan said...

Scott, I saw it at the Lincoln Square Theater on Broadway. I also loved the book, so maybe that was why I was a bit miffed at the translation. It's mostly accurate, but it just could have been better. The movie dumbs down the book quite a bit.

If you are a fan of great acting, I'd recommend it. The main three are quite good.

Scott said...

thanks Ryan! lincoln square is great, even if a bit crowded at times (you should've seen the crowd when i saw Little Children there!). i always suspected it'd be watered down a bit, but the negative reaction thus far is a bit unsettling. still, i do loves me some carey mulligan so i'll check it out this weekend. maybe we'll get an extended or director's cut on dvd.

MRRIPLEY said...

it seems best actress just lost someone else no mulligan plus no wright or roberts,mirren looks iffy too.

who goes?

moore - officially lead,vote splitting

hathaway - sight unseen,too young.light film

hawkins - lightweight movie,unknown story to the usa

watts - is anyone dying to see her nommed again

witherspoon - blah trailer,won 5 yrs ago

swank - i think they reailse 1 was enough

williams- small film has momentum

lawrence- early frontrunner,age?

manville could move to supporting,no one knows her name

bening - has the career honor in her corner but has moore to contend with.

portman -unlikeble character has all the buzzz.

kidman - has a juicy former award winning role and is it time to welcome her back

lane - true story,career honor,film may flop

paltrow - seems like a relic from the early millenium doesn't she,late release

Volvagia said...

Lead Actress? I don't know about Witherspoon. The trailer didn't seem "blah" for one and, on a second note, sometimes movies just don't translate well to a "trailer" experience, and thusly, would probably translate even worse to a "TV Spot experience." (See in "post 99" film culture, the TV spot/trailer is nearly the only way to advertise. My family rarely looks at posters in the theatre when we go. And trailers? Well...they don't include Uncle Boonmee in trailer roundups, even though you may want to convince your family to take an adventure to see it.

Jeffrey said...

Spot on review. My biggest problem with this film was the overall sentimental and melodramatic mood - the film didn't ever have a chance to breathe and while the score, the acting, and the dialogue were passable and the lighting and the cinematography were excellent, they all combined to make one hermetic and insufferable film. It was one of those movies that was trying really hard to make me cry at the end but never justified it.