With the eponymous silver-screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) teases his audience with a picture of love, death and the ways we skirt around both — a picture elegant in its aesthetic crafting but plodding and unrefined in its thematic execution.

“Never Let Me Go”

At the Michigan Theater
Fox Searchlight

A brilliant trio of young actors — Carey Mulligan (“An Education”), Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) and Keira Knightley (“Pirates of the Caribbean” series) — star as Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, respectively. They are alumni of Hailsham, an exclusive British prep school where students are groomed as “donors”: individuals genetically engineered to survive multiple organ donations before dying, or as is the donor vernacular, “completing.” (This medical achievement, prefaced with the film’s opening text, was realized in 1967 and allows life past 100 years).

The film starts with Kathy reflecting on her education at Hailsham, where she painfully played third wheel to best friends’ Ruth and Tommy’s puppy-love romance. Kathy has long had misty-eyes for Tommy, but the domineering Ruth effectively squelches that fantasy.

The film then quickly shifts in time, to when the three friends have graduated Hailsham and been shuttled to The Cottages, a pre-donation pastoral community. As they face “completion,” Ruth, Kathy and Tommy seek to prove the popularly propagated rumor that Hailsham students can defer donations if they can show they’re in “verifiable” love.

The film’s most noteworthy feature is the performances of the cast: Knightley is almost unrecognizable as a woman weathered by her donations and scarred by subtle self-loathing and regret. Mulligan and Garfield prove compatible, believable romantics, with Kathy’s level-headedness a soothing complement to Tommy’s disenchantment with the world.

With its dampened color palette and a moving score, the film perfectly captures the hopelessness to which the characters are relegated. Long shots feature repeating structures — bridge trestles, apartment windows and milk bottles — tastefully alluding to the inescapable order inherent to a Hailsham student’s life.

But beyond the visuals and its actors, there’s nothing too convincing about Romanek’s universe. Glaringly absent is a credible backdrop: apart from the characters wearing electronic bracelets that serve as tracking devices, little indicates the extent to which the characters are guinea pig outsiders to a hellish world. The medical experiments seem all too human, making sympathy difficult to find for their lot and the narrative less compelling.

Moral reservations about this type of world certainly abound, but do not receive any significant treatment. The film does not deem important any exploration or explanation of its moral implications ― instead, the magnetic personal relationships, which make life desirable for the characters, are the film’s focus. Romanek discards a potentially engaging story about the incongruent balance between societal “progress” and basic human desire in favor of the love triangle between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. The film never fully articulates the horrors of Hailsham and boils down to a tired formula of desiring an unattainable love.

Omnipresent in “Never Let Me Go” is the aforementioned label for a donor’s death ― to “complete.” But though visually engaging and well-acted, the film never quite achieves that goal.

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