DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Kazuo Ishiguro's novel is a wonderfully written parable. It deftly uses a science fiction conceit to explore human mortality. It does so by recounting a coming of age tale that is as horrific as it is gripping. Horrific because the protagonist never perceives the horrendous practice the story deals with as something wrong and gripping because of the harsh reality of the nature of the existence of the characters and the forced, condensed lives they live.
Romanek's film handles the conceit brilliantly, but barely manages to scratch the surface of the emotional layers in the story. His film looks stunning and is adequately acted by a decent cast. It also shows a great amount of restraint.
And that's where the main problems lie. I greatly admire the meticulous way Romanek constructed his film. The aesthetics that go with the timespan it covers, the distinct feel of the boarding school, the subtle science fiction elements and the absolutely gorgeous cinematography, all make for a beautiful film. And for the better part the aforementioned restraint works really well, especially in the first act.
But in the end this is a story about what it is to be human, our souls and the essence of our time on this earth. It is limited and the characters in this film are forced to confront that notion much sooner than 'regular' human beings are. That offers up some potentially stirring drama, but Romanek seems permanently afraid to go for the throat and instead keeps us at arm's length most of the time. There are a couple of instances where he allows it, but, as good as they are, they are often too late to truly have an impact. It's almost as if he tried too hard to avoid melodrama to make the truly dramatic moments as sincere as possible, unfortunately forgetting the viewer's investment in the process.
Beautiful and impressively shot, Never Let Me Go offers enough to enjoy but in its dramatic potential unfortunately suffers from a disconnect between intent and execution.