This mostly stolid, finally unsurprising ill-conceived drama looks at the orbit of kids reared for organ transplanting. Not something typical of what includes a very British upbringing with a science-fiction quality.
No, Never Let Me Go doesn't come off as very unsettling (of the surgical kind in one hearty moment) as gloomy and ambiguous while having appealing leads in the form of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus).
They're the older counterparts of the Kathy, Ruth and Tommy first seen in a seemingly idyllic English boarding school in 1978. Hot-tempered and clumsy Tommy is someone a sensitive Kathy likes. But, Tommy looks to be more drawn to a gregarious Ruth.
A teacher at this "special" learning institution, played by Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) provides some insight into the donors that the students really are, at least when it comes to things like "originals" and "completion."
The problem with this well-accoutered drama elegantly lensed may be in the minimalist approach of adapting Kazuo Ishiguro's prize-winning 2005 novel in a certain unintended annoying evasive way as it moves to 1985 then finally 1994. Scribe Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) works hard to realize the triangle developing amongst Kathy (as Mulligan offers much voice-over), Tommy and Ruth, the latter two becoming more romantically involved.
What could have been a more timely take on the repercussions of genetic technology like stem cell research feels more ponderous and episodic as Never Let Me Go tries to build melodramatic range from the notion of service deferral. It has some of the same kind of emotion and interplay as seen in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers albeit less explicit as power of the trio's feelings converge with the reality awaiting them.
Director Mark Romanek, remembered for his music-videos, who made the cool, arty and creepy One Hour Photo, again uses much care for the composition of his detailed shots with Rachel Portman's somewhat stirring, string-like score. It all is in service of where the grief needs to be countered with a necessary reunion of sorts.
Even discerning viewers may struggle along with Kathy, as Mulligan (An Education) makes the most of her languishing, yet willful character who becomes a 'carer' for donors who've gone through the rounds. Knightley (better in Atonement) and Garfield are less compelling though able as they're able to make their characters' hearts race for a while. Charlotte Rampling is just right as the stern, distinguished headmistress of the school. There is one amusing, nonplussed moment for the young adults at the diner, as the filmmakers could have tried to loosen things up a little more.
Romanek and Garland, like Kathy herself are sensitive enough to the implications of the source material. Even with some gracefulness into unrequited love there isn't quite a fulfilling conclusion (at a nice coastal enclave). Here is a beautifully rendered period soap opera needing more investment from the process sent up through the lives of ponderous, longing desperation which will be easy to let go.