Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir says Never Let Me Go is “meticulous and devastating”:
Romanek does so many difficult things beautifully in this movie, which richly deserves the Oscar consideration it will surely receive. He handles a literary adaptation, he re-creates a lost world that is partly imagined but mostly real, he manages a group of characters from childhood through adulthood, and he gets haunting, underplayed performances from both Mulligan — the real star of this film — and the oft-maligned Keira Knightley, strong and subtle as the greedy, petty and finally penitent Ruth. (Garfield is also good, but his role is less substantial.) But maybe the best and most difficult of them is capturing the philosophical dimension of “Never Let Me Go,” which is difficult to describe with words, let alone pictures…
Screenwriter Alex Garland, who is himself a novelist, sticks close to both the letter and spirit of Ishiguro’s novel; this movie is a veritable clinic in precise literary adaptation. He incorporates snatches of dialogue and even voiceover (read by Mulligan) straight from the book, without swamping the human drama or overwhelming Romanek’s astonishing visual evocation of a bygone Britain.
Eric Kohn from IndieWire agrees, but not necessarily in a good way, saying the film “has more visual sheen than storytelling polish.”
An incidental sci-fi story that favors elegant imagery over content, ‚ÄúNever Let Me Go‚Äù has plenty of emotional baggage to spare. Adapting Kazuo Ishiguro‚Äôs 2005 novel, Mark Romanek (directing his first feature since 2002‚Äôs ‚ÄúOne Hour Photo‚Äù) sets his sights on a mini-saga that radiates tragedy in each scene.
The couple‚Äôs inability to escape their grim requirements (living in a disease-free society that expects their complicity, there‚Äôs nowhere for them to go) makes for a claustrophobic viewing experience that‚Äôs also strangely warmhearted, as though Romanek intends his study of ephemeral lives as a metaphor for mortality itself. Although quietly unnerving, ‚ÄúNever Let Me Go‚Äù mainly functions as an exercise in creating a solemn aura and not letting up. Whether or not Romanek intended it to feel one-note, at least it‚Äôs a well-orchestrated one.
Louise Thomas for Newsweek rightly notes that Never Let Me Go “is much more about the human condition than any sci-fi plot twist,” but suggests a novelist can access tools of subtly that film adaptions often find elusive.
When Ishiguro writes fiction, he once told The Atlantic, he wants it to be ‚Äúunfilmable.‚Äù ‚ÄúI‚Äôm very keen to write fiction that only works on the page,‚Äù he said. In many respects, Never Let Me Go actually works well on the screen; visually, it is a beautiful film, and nicely acted (by, among others, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield). Certain moments‚Äîan angry kiss, a glare in a barn, a howl of rage and pain‚Äîare as evocative as anything to be found in Ishiguro‚Äôs plain but insinuating prose. But the movie strains against the limitations of its form, with characters pushed and flattened into a plot.
One doesn‚Äôt expect or want a film to copy a book. But an adaptation needs its own integrity, and there‚Äôs something just missing here. In trading artless prose for artful shots and subtlety for suspense, Never Let Me Go has become more conventional, more obviously sci-fi and self-consciously allegorical.