Saturday, October 23, 2010

Austin Film Fest - "Never Let Me Go", "Blue Valentine"

Never Let Me Go - 2.5/5

If there's one common factor I kept coming back to in Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, it's the cold sense of removal, a more observational style that keeps the viewer at arms length, rather than creating a more intimate, life affirming sense of seeing the end of our lives. I wanted desperately to feel something for these characters, to be emotionally engaged in their plight, and more than anything, for them to rage against their circumstances. But how can one get attached to characters we know will all die at the end?

The problems with this film are numerous, but I'll begin with the fact that the film is quite unrefined, a little too obvious. I felt like it was spelling out emotional and narrative beats to me, with signposts as blunt as a dull knife. But ultimately, the problem the film has is that it never once explains what exactly is keeping these characters from ever rebelling against their circumstances. Some have offered that they were too sheltered and brainwashed form childhood to do so, but when do we ever receive that crucial piece of information? Likewise, one might think that twenty years after leaving the school they would have figured out the real world. They know how to drive cars, they've been living on their own, Kathy in particular, but they show no interest whatsoever in eloping and getting away from all this cruel fatalism. Some have also pointed out to me that we don't know that Kathy and Tommy will die until the revelation at the end that there are no deferrals. But I think that's a misinterpretation. The film explains that a deferral is not a get out fo jail free card, it's simply a delayed sentence. They'll all still have to go through with donations and die, just not at that moment. But really, the overbearing, blunt sense of fatalism and imminent demise made me completely numb. Why get involved if they will all be dead by the end of things? I couldn't come up with any reason. If that cold sense of numbness and emotional detachment was the point of the film, I guess it just wasn't for me.

On a positive side of things, Carey Mulligan is the obvious best in show performance hear, with Andrew Garfield proving once again to be a born star. Kiera Knightley is very good, but I feel like I've seen much better, more affecting performances out of her, she seemed to be going through the motions at times, unlike her previous efforts in "Pride and Prejudice" or "Atonement" where she poured her heart and soul into the roles, she's playing some shadow of that energy here. Rachel Portman's score is beautiful, but plays to an emotion that isn't there until it's far too late. But ultimately, that's the problem with the film, by the time it ever attempts to really get me involved in what's going on, it's far too late in the story to care.

Blue Valentine - 4.5/5

If the problem with "Never Let Me Go" was a cold sense of observational removal, "Blue Valentine" is the exact opposite. Often framing shots in intimate, and sometimes claustrophobic close-ups, the beautiful imagery of the film is matched only by it's searing portrait of a marriage falling apart, played by two of today's most talented actors in career best performances. That Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both under 30 is a testament to both their incredible talent and dedication to their craft. The film can be a bit hard to get through, with the final impact of the film almost too much to bear, but it's ultimately worth it to see such a layered, nuanced story unfold. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in raw emotional honesty.

Ryan Gosling gives my favorite male performance of the year so far, with so much subtlety, grace, and complexity that one cannot imagine anyone else in the role. He goes from being a bright-eyed, if somewhat naive, romantic, to unintended family man, disillusioned to the life around him. If anything, Gosling offeres an intense look into a man who, while he loves his daughter, has never really come to terms with the idea that it might not be his biological child (a piece of information the film cleverly evades, never giving us a truly definitive answer). He's a supportive father and husband, but one gets the sense that he's numb to the life that he is living now.

Michelle Williams is equally impressive, if a little less nuanced, but that's more than likely due to the character she plays, a good girl who is thrust into this whirlwind of emotion and heartache. Normal people caught up in extreme circumstances, she can't be expected to act with grace under such pressure.

But therein lies the beauty of the film. As I pointed out before, it's not the most original relationship crisis ever put on film, but it's one of the most honest, poignant, and moving ones I've ever seen. The way the director chose to give the present times a cleaner, if cold, digital look, intercut with flashbacks shot in a more handheld, grainy, rough around the edges look, is absolutely brilliant and haunting as an end result. The images of this film will haunt you for some time, as much as the sheer emotional impact.

In one scene in particular, at the end of their first date, Dean (Gosling) plays his ukelele while crooning "You Always Hurt the One You Love" in a silly, theatric voice while Cindy (Williams) tap-dances to the music, sounds cringe-worthy on paper, but works in such a beautiful, haunting way on screen that one can't help but wipe away the tears by the end of the scene, and then again when the audio is played over the credits. The first time out of tears of happiness, the tease of hope for this couple, the love they once shared, the second time out of the impact of harsh brutal reality, and days long gone.


Matt Bukaty said...

Arrgh I'm so bummed I can't see 'Blue Valentine' until like, what...December? LAME.

Sucks that 'Never Let Me Go' wasn't as good as it was hyped up to be. Maybe the score will still get some nods, even if it played into things that weren't onscreen lol

Kevin K. said...

I can see Rachel Portman's score being thrown a bone, but that's it for the film. Nothing else really stood out. Best Actress is far to crowded this year for Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield will most likely be nominated for a much better performance as the emotional center of The Social Network.

If the Weinstein Company plays their cards right, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams could be both nominated. I would hope at least Ryan Gosling would get in, as it's my favorite male performance of the year.

elizagolightly said...

I TOTALLY disagree with you about Never Let Me Go. Matt, give it a chance.

I am however, SO excited to hear that Ryan is your favorite male performance so far this year because I LOVE him. I think he's been under rated for YEARS. And I LOVE Michelle Williams. I want to see it. Can I handle it?

Kevin K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin K. said...

The responses to Never Let Me Go have been very polarized, so who knows where one will come out on it. I hated the film, but Audree loved it, so it could go either way for you Matt. But I'm 100% certain outside of score it will not get any awards attention. The critics aren't behind it, and the response is too divided.

Ryan Gosling has always been on my radar since Half Nelson. He was great in that, and in Lars and the Real Girl. Always very honest and genuine in his portrayals of characters. As far as whether you can handle it, I imagine if you can handle Revolutionary Road, you can probably get through this, though it's pretty soul-crushing. I basically lost all faith in humanity after seeing it, but in a good way. The film is so well acted and written, and has a distinct style about it. Not terribly original, but it carries enough dramatic weight to make up for that.

sid said...

Screw you. Never Let Me Go was perfect. The film, and the book, are about death. The reason why they never do anything to resist their fates is because death is inevitable. If you didn't get that, you don't understand the way the universe works.

Kevin K. said...

Well then I must be naive. Thanks for the memo. I'll be over here enjoying other films while you stew in anger.

elizagolightly said...


sid said...

I assure you, good sir, that I am not "stewing" in anger, as you so eloquently put it. Rather I am the very image of calmness and composure. You see, like you, I wondered why the clones did nothing to prevent their gruesome fate. However, unlike you, I took a moment to consider this strange apathy the clones expressed towards their fates. I thought about it, and realised that it was a brilliant metaphor for death, and how death cannot be cheated, rather than immediately whining about its irregularities on the Internet. And that is why I urge you to reconsider your callous dismissal of such a poignant and expressive film. I trust that, having seen my careful rebuttal to your previous comment, you will look back on your error and perhaps correct it rather than dismissing me as "stewing in anger".

Kevin K. said...

Your obsession is scary dude.

Kevin K. said... Didn't know an opinion could be incorrect. Huh.

Kevin K. said...

I do find it odd that you accuse me of being immature when you began your initial comment with "Screw you".

Kevin K. said...

In any case, this argument is largely pointless, as you're not going to change my mind on the film one bit, and vice versa, so why bother getting so worked up about it? I'm a critic, I expressed how I felt about the film, especially on a film I care too little about to even bother arguing with you about it. If you loved the film, then go with God. Why does my negative review bother you so much? I can't imagine anyone with less impact on your life than me, a stranger on the internet, but you're putting a ton of weight on my one negative review. Who cares? I definitely don't.

sid said...

It's funny how the guy who isn't obsessed, and doesn't care replied 4 times to my one comment. Besides, I met you at the film festival. I'm just a leetle bit more than a stranger on the internet.

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