THE LONG SHOT: What becomes of the broken-hearted?

Posted by · 2:19 pm · October 14th, 2010

(A day later than usual — apologies.)

After the London Film Festival raised its curtain last night with a typically flashy European premiere for Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go,” this morning’s papers and breakfast TV reports have been busy with chatter about what Britfilm’s two it-girls, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, were wearing; how the next Spider-Man (that is, The Artist Formerly Known As Andrew Garfield) is settling into his red-carpet duties; and what the whole event promises about the beleaguered British film industry’s ability to, well, throw fancy parties.

Something far fewer people have been talking about, however, is the film itself. That’s no great surprise: after securing eagerly awaited world premieres — “Frost/Nixon” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — for their last two opening nights, London fest organizers dropped the ball slightly by picking a film that bowed at Toronto last month and has already opened in the States. You can’t expect the same level of excitement for a gift that has already been opened by someone else, even if the ribbon has been retied.

Still, the air surrounding “Never Let Me Go” was not merely one of used goods, but of damaged goods at that: yesterday morning’s press screening was characterized by a near-palpable cloud of lowered expectations, as tepid-to-respectable reviews and fizzling box-office from across the pond foretold a high-class shrug of a movie. “That’s going to get Oscar nominations?” a critic in the row behind me asked as the end credits rolled; his tone translated the question as, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

I feel for “Never Let Me Go,” even if some might counter that the film doesn’t feel much for itself. That’s partly because I think it’s a worthy — and even brittly interesting — work whose sizable problems nonetheless don’t merit the degrading label of “failed awards bait,” but largely because it should never have been fingered as awards bait in the first place.

I’m not so naïve as to suggest that a big-name adaptation of an acclaimed highbrow bestseller, from Fox Searchlight of all studios, should never have been in the Oscar conversation. But I can’t help feeling that the trailer’s honey-hued lensing and cut-glass accents distracted some pundits and viewers from the film’s bottom line: that it’s a chilly bit of lo-fi sci-fi (and something of a downer at that), from a music video genius who has yet to make a home-run feature. If you’re wondering why the Oscar talk around the film went quiet, the answer was in front of you all along.

Of course, that’s not to say the film will vanish from the season altogether. The Academy’s music branch has a habit of embracing hopefuls shunned elsewhere, from “The Good German” to “Big Fish,” and composer Rachel Portman will likely represent the film on Oscar night — even if, ironically, I think her score is its major debit. And in a less crowded year (2005, say), Carey Mulligan’s superb lead performance would still be in the thick of Best Actress discussion. Dismissed Best Picture contenders don’t disappear. They just lower their sights and aim for inclusion in the less pressured races, where even a below-the-line nod or two can make a difference to a film’s exposure and income.

So to quote last year’s doozy of an awards-season misfire, “The Lovely Bones,” Romanek’s film now finds itself (cue fearfully hushed voice) in the In-Between. Is it too early to call it the first casualty of the 2010 season? (It’s certainly not the last.) Like Susie Salmon in her sunny cornfield of culled playmates, however, it’s not alone in its suffering: the road to Oscar is littered with the burnt-out shells of sturdy vehicles that crashed, or simply ran out of gas, somewhere along the way.

Their possible reasons for underperforming are many. Last year, rather like “Never Let Me Go,” pundits blamed a too-early fall release for the cold shoulder afforded Jane Campion’s far more critically beloved “Bright Star,” but perhaps the film would have proved too delicate to take hold in any month.

Others, like “Cold Mountain” and “Dreamgirls,” are accused of trying (or campaigning) too hard. It’s not always about strategy, either: sometimes a film simply doesn’t catch on because, well, it turns out to be irremediably awful: ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Amelia.”

At the same time, however, a stalled Oscar campaign can amount to a test of a film’s true worth: a film that fades from the public or critical consciousness once the Oscar circus has rolled out of town is likely to be one that never deserved to be there in the first place. How many of you have seen “Memoirs of a Geisha” again in the past five years? Hell, how many of you have so much as thought of “Invictus” in the past five months? Future generations will marvel some of the films that were once thought to be hot tickets, while other Oscar-season underachievers like “The Wrestler,” “A History of Violence” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” continue to cultivate their fanbases. Failed Oscar bait is one thing. A failed film is quite another.

[Photos: Fox Searchlight and Apparition]

→ 35 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Long Shot

35 responses so far

  • 1 10-14-2010 at 2:32 pm

    Pepe said...

    I really hope ‘Never Let Me Go’ gets a few nominations, like Best Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, of course Original Score, and perhaps Supporting Actor, and maybe, just maybe, Supporting Actress.

  • 2 10-14-2010 at 2:45 pm

    Benito Delicias said...

    A History of Violence….how did Maria Bello not get nominated? (and Frances McDormand did?)

  • 3 10-14-2010 at 2:46 pm

    LC said...

    I saw “Never Let Me Go” with great anticipation at Telluride Film Festival and was very disappointed.

    The film never engaged me and I felt nothing for the characters. The entire story was flat without building to any kind of emotional climax.

    Only the music tugged at my heart and I tear-up at EVERYTHING – commercials, Youtube, you name it.

    I thought maybe I was supposed to feel nothing for them since no one in the film cared about their fate. However, as I continue to read reviews, I realize I am not alone in my conclusion.

    I will probably see it in the theaters, just to see if I missed something now that my expectations are more realistic, but I may wait for the DVD and I won’t recommend it when there are so many other films to see.

    That makes NLMG a non-contender for any nominations (other than score) in my book.

  • 4 10-14-2010 at 2:49 pm

    tony rock said...

    I’d ask those who didn’t like the film to please point out what flaws you found, because I didn’t find many. Yes, it’s a little languid, a little dry, and perhaps not as complex as it could’ve been, but the performances and cinematography were exquisite. And that ending with Garfield is devastating.

  • 5 10-14-2010 at 2:59 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I feel bad about NLMG.

    I didn’t hate the film, but I feel that Mulligan, Knightley, Garfield, Hawkins, Rampling, Rachel Portman, & the cinematographer deserved a better movie, overall (direction/writing issues).

    The movie left way too many blanks for it’s audience to fill in. The characters, back stories, & subplots were too underdeveloped. And the plot is too short on incident.

    I love slow, methodical, moody films like NLMG, but I think this one missed the boat, so to speak. Mid-60s on RT, metacritic, & less-than-great box office is telling.

    For Oscar predictions, I do see Portman getting in for right now. And I think we’ll see a handful of BAFTA noms.

    And as for Memoirs of a Geisha … cowering in a corner … I love that movie and have watched it within the year.

    As for failed Oscar bait (Cold Mountain, Dreamgirls, Talented Mr. Ripley), love them all, too.

    Invictus, ehhh, it was fine. Didn’t hate it.
    Amelia, deplorable.

  • 6 10-14-2010 at 3:07 pm

    JJ1 said...

    tony rock, for me, it was more that everything was so timid, so muted. And the scene near the end with ‘Madam’ (Charlotte Rampling) should have been more thoroughly executed; which would have made the revelation make more sense, as well as creating a more gut-wrenching effect. But that’s just me. I appreciated a lot in the movie, but not the execution of the story.

  • 7 10-14-2010 at 3:10 pm

    matsunaga said...

    I think if there’s any acting nomination for this film, it will be luckily given to Knightley for supporting actress… The lead actress category is too crowded… And I don’t think there will be no place for Mulligan, given the mixed reviews for the film…

    I hope it gets the Musical Score nomination.. I’m not sure with the other tech awards but an adapted screenplay, based on the reviews is not likely to happen…

  • 8 10-14-2010 at 3:13 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Correction: And I think there will be no place for Mulligan, given the mixed reviews for the film…

  • 9 10-14-2010 at 3:18 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    I actually have thought Invictus in the last five months. I have thought about how is was such a cold and crappy movie. I still don’t understand why was it nominated for any Oscars.

  • 10 10-14-2010 at 3:22 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    By the way, the title for the article is from a Bon Jovi song, right?

  • 11 10-14-2010 at 3:28 pm

    Rashad said...

    The movie just isn’t that good. Carey possibly to get nominated that’s about it.

    Garland once again disappoints

  • 12 10-14-2010 at 3:32 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Well, I’m still eager to see it, though, alas, it will have to be on DVD.

  • 13 10-14-2010 at 3:39 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Patriotsfan: Jimmy Ruffin, not Bon Jovi.

  • 14 10-14-2010 at 3:46 pm

    Silencio said...

    I pretty much liked NLMG, but it was a tad long, and the closing monologue was borderline insulting. I’ve been describing my experience as that of a person that has learned Russian and is enjoying a book of Russian poems, until the last page where the poem is written in English, just in case I hadn’t grasped the entirety of the book. Man that was unnecessary. I was pissed.

    But besides that last voice over and the length, I thought it was solid.

  • 15 10-14-2010 at 3:48 pm

    LC said...

    After the first screening at TFF there was a Q&A attended by the director- Romanek who said he read and tried to option the book the first week it was published, Ishiguro who wrote the book and Garland, the screen writer who said they were friends and had actually read the rough draft of the book as it was being written. So it isn’t like they didn’t understand the book or feel strongly about the story. But it just doesn’t come across on the screen.

    For Tony,

    I didn’t feel any “love” between Garfield and either of the women. He seemed to go in any direction he was steered, so for me there wasn’t any tragic love story in the film.

    I felt the most heartbreak when the broken toys were delivered and I realized this wasn’t a boarding school but more like an orphanage.

    I think the *facts* of their lives would have been more gut wrenching if it was revealed later in the film AFTER the viewer had time to care about the characters.

    I also wonder if those who enjoyed the film had already read the book and were projecting some of the emotions the characters were feeling which weren’t portrayed enough for people who have not read the book.

  • 16 10-14-2010 at 3:52 pm

    MattyD said...

    I’m always surprised when I see people complain about two aspects of NLMG:
    1) The lack of explanation concerning the sci-fi elements and lack of backstory towards the characters, Hailsham, etc.
    2) The characters never try to run away or escape their predestined fates.

    As anyone who has read the novel knows, the lack of backstory is necessary to the story and the characters not trying to escape their fate is equally important. Why do we want to see ANOTHER movie about clones running and runnning and running away from the people who are harvesting their organs?! The characters in NLMG do try to prolong their lives, but they ultimately can do nothing. Most people don’t escape the lives and tracks they were born into, so why should they overcome the odds and turn this into ANOTHER movie about beating the system. I’ll watch ‘THX-1138’ again, thank you. I just can’t stand hearing those complaints.

  • 17 10-14-2010 at 3:56 pm

    Zac said...

    I thought the film was kind of spectacular, beautiful, and haunting. All three leads were great and Romanek did a wonderful job. The movie respected our intelligence and contains little exposition which was a breath of fresh air as well. In my top 3 of the 90 or so movies I have seen in 2010 so far.

  • 18 10-14-2010 at 3:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    MattyD: Okay, why do we want to see a film about clones resigned to their fate? Especially a film that is trying to, in some way, have something to say about human spirit?

  • 19 10-14-2010 at 4:00 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Matty D, my own major complaint, as someone who has not read the book is:

    SPOILER: Madam’s lack of explanation in that scene near the end (where she doesn’t say that Hailsham tried to HELP the clones, but rather, she coldly says ‘too see if you had souls at all’). Sure, I get it NOW, but it just made absolutely no sense to me after leaving the theater, because there was no context for Madam’s shortened, cold delivery.

  • 20 10-14-2010 at 4:21 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Again, SPOILER throughout:

    To me, there is NO way you could surmise (from the movie) that Hailsham was anything but a bad place; when it seems like they were railing against the establishment which supported cloning/clones. Madam comes across as hardened bit*h, when it seems that she and the Hailsham crew were trying to find any artistic/love inside the clones to thwart the establishment. But she didn’t appear to care, at all (in the film).

    How do you make a movie where the end is such a pivotal component, but then deaden the emotional effect by not having Madam divulge what she does (in the book); hence, making the movie ending as vague as it is.

    Again, that’s just me, though. Maybe I completely missed it on 1st viewing. Am I alone here?

  • 21 10-14-2010 at 5:00 pm

    JFK said...


    I had to swallow my pride about this novel (one of my favorites of all time) and agree with Kris that the film fell short on delivering something that could invoke an emotive response. I think the reason has a lot to do with the lack of backstories that are present in the novel and not so much in the film. For instance, the whole story of the cassette tape that spawns the novel’s name was underdeveloped comparatively and given time to think, I know the list goes on and on.

    Mulligan and Knightley were in top form, but given the crowded Actress category, I think only Knightley stands a chance and for someone who has loved her in nearly everything, I hope it happens.

  • 22 10-14-2010 at 5:11 pm

    MattyD. said...

    I should have prefaced my earlier comment with my opinion of the film as a whole, which is: disappointment. I love the novel dearly, and although I think the acting and cinematography is phenomenal, I found it largely vacant emotionally.

    And Kris, I can’t help but agree that the film does a poor job of asking us to CARE about this story and its inhabitants. I wish that they could take the spirit and themes declared in the final monologue and run that throughout, but it just didn’t happen, despite the hard work of the actors.

    I’m just frustrated with hearing those complaints ad nauseum when I don’t think that’s a problem with the story or the film. I also think that having read the novel aided my viewing and understanding of the characters/plot. It’s difficult for me to step away and see what those who weren’t familiar with the story are seeing.

  • 23 10-14-2010 at 5:18 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Well said, Matty D. Thank you for that.

    I may be one of those you’re frustrated with. And if I read the book, I’m sure I’d feel the same as you. Well, I think I do (liked the acting, cinematography – but felt little because of the lack of emotion aspect). It’s just that, for me, whether I read the book or not, I think that scene (with Madam) was poorly conceived & executed; with respect to enlivening any emotion.

    And as for the escaping-pre-destined-fates issue, I just don’t have a strong opinion on that aspect of the story one way or another.

  • 24 10-14-2010 at 5:18 pm

    Tyler said...

    @ Silencio.. You thought the film was a tad long? Isn’t it only like 100 minutes?

  • 25 10-14-2010 at 5:38 pm

    Rich said...

    Charlotte Rampling’s character was Miss Emily, not Madame.

  • 26 10-14-2010 at 5:49 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Sorry, Rich. Couldn’t remember. Thank you.

  • 27 10-14-2010 at 6:32 pm

    Speaking English said...

    The one nomination it does truly deserve is for Cinematography. Gorgeous work, and two particular shots stood out to me the most (Carey and Andrew on the pier, Andrew running towards the beached ship).

    I don’t even remember the score, and it made no impression on me during the film.

  • 28 10-14-2010 at 7:20 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    Oh ok. Thanks Guy. I was pretty far off.

  • 29 10-14-2010 at 7:34 pm

    Silencio said...

    Tyler, it’s not about its literal length. I’m sure most of us have watched longer films that didn’t feel that long. With this film it felt like the slow pace fit the story, but moments here and there could have been trimmed. The cool thing about slower films for me is that you can have an epic experience without the epic length…but if not edited tightly enough, it can just drag. Which it did a couple of times towards the end. To be fair, some of the trimming could have happened in the script first.

  • 30 10-14-2010 at 7:54 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    I feel like I’m watching a whole different movie. I actually was very touched by the movie (Not as much as Bright Star though). I haven’t read the novel, so this is my first experience of the story.

    I didn’t find it depressing to watch a movie where the characters are resigned to their fates. They are clones, so they are not wanted in the outside world, except their organs. So if they break free, they would be seen as mutants. So they try to live their lives to the fullest. I think Knightley said it best when she said they are modelled after rubbish. The tragedy is this group of children ARE aware of their destiny (when Hawkins told them) and cannot go through life with blissful oblivion. I also love the scene with Madam because the bad guys don’t even try to defend defiantly because they are too old. But seeing the disappointment in Mulligan and Garfield’s face really do make you feel for them just when they have one chance of happiness. Yes, it’s not the perfect movie (it might be in my top 10, but probably not), but to me it’s full of subtle feelings. I actually think Mulligan underplays things too much. I love Knightley the most in the movie and I think if she campaigns in the supporting category, she might have a chance.

  • 31 10-14-2010 at 7:55 pm

    MattyD. said...


    JJ1: I completely agree with you. That moment in the novel is staggering and an emotional highpoint, and yet I found the film made it manipulative and doused it in an emotional desperation that was contradictory to the tone of the film up until then. I think that scene may be my biggest problem with the film on a whole, including Andrew Garfield’s subsequent freak-out. That all felt very treacly and tacked-on, and there’s nothing I detest in a film more than when it screams ‘This is when you’re SUPPOSED to CRY!”

  • 32 10-14-2010 at 9:14 pm

    cineJAB said...

    I liked Never Let Me Go…and Memoirs of a Geisha…

  • 33 10-14-2010 at 10:34 pm

    Lucas said...

    My favourite shot in NLMG is of Keira Knightley’s body lying on the operating table, empty of all its parts – like the movie itself, a gorgeous, empty, dead entity.

  • 34 10-15-2010 at 5:04 am

    JJ1 said...

    I like your wording, Lucas. It’s fairly true. My fave shots were: the camera lingering on Kathy when listening to the tape, Tommy’s run towards the boat, & Keira on the table. But yeah, your post is great.

  • 35 10-15-2010 at 6:17 am

    Joe said...

    Just a few thoughts: is “NLMG” really the best movie to be watching bright and early in the morning? (Aren’t there some films that are more appropriate during certain times of the day?) And I would respectfully say that “One Hour Photo” is very much a home run.
    My real question, though, is: since watching it almost two weeks ago myself (in the States, of course), I can’t stop thinking about it. Not the movie itself; the themes and ideas. Needless to say, this is not something that can be said about every film. (For example, I’m not obsessing over the moral quandries of “The Town” for weeks on end.) Might that be enough to sustain “NLMG”? In other words, is the very idea of the film enough to keep it in the race?
    I don’t have a horse in this race; I’m just a fan who came to say hi. (Translation: I’m not a huge “NLMG” lover, but I would like to see it do well and grow beyond its ‘failed bait’ status.)