Never Let Me Go has the stale, stifling air of a hospital waiting room.
That’s appropriate – the movie is set in an alternate reality where human clones are raised and processed as multiple organ donors – yet it’s not necessarily to the picture’s advantage. Never Let Me Go captures the boredom of a hospital waiting room but misses out on another quality that is far more dramatic: the excruciating tension.
This is due, in large part, to the fact that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth – the would-be donors who are the focus of the film, played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley – calmly accept their fate as sacrificial lambs. As we follow them from their childhood to their youth to their final stages of life in various hospitals, these characters walk through their lives in a stupor. Tommy screams with rage at two points in the film, but they are brief moments of wailing impotence. They lead neither to catharsis nor action.
I don’t remember this being a problem in the acclaimed Kazuo Ishiguro novel on which the movie is based. The dread was palpable there, but never dull. Director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) has made a handsome, dutiful adaptation – at its best Never Let Me Go echoes the spookiness of Picnic at Hanging Rock – yet like so many reverent movies based on acclaimed books, it’s lifeless.
That said, the picture offers an interesting introduction to Garfield, who also stars in The Social Network and has been cast as the next Spider-Man. He shows a spark – his Tommy has an amusing impishness – but he too is beaten down by the overall moroseness. Never Let Me ultimately induces you to do something else that commonly happens in hospital waiting rooms: fall asleep.