(director: Mark Romanek; screenwriters: Alex Garland/based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro; cinematographer: Adam Kimmel; editor: Barney Pilling; music: Rachel Portman; cast: Carey Mulligan (Kathy H.), Andrew Garfield (Tommy), Keira Knightley (Ruth), Isobel Meikle-Small (Young Kathy), Ella Purnell (Young Ruth), Charlie Rowe (Young Tommy), Charlotte Rampling(Miss Emily), Sally Hawkins (Miss Lucy), Nathalie Richard (Madame), Andrea Riseborough (Chrissie), Domhnall Gleeson (Rodney); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Andrew MacDonald/Allon Reich; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2010-UK/USA)

An uneven effort.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer Alex Garland bases his faithful screenplay on the popular 2005 sci-fi novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”)keeps things visually stimulating and less hauntingly sci-fi and more allegorically humanistic and lugubrious than the novel. It’s set in England, and tells about theevolutionary advance in the harvesting of essential organs from specially bred human clones. It’s narrated by the 28-year-old Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan), who calls herself a “carer” (nursing donors). She’s an innocent and sober-minded participant in life-saving experiments for the fortunate but one of self-sacrifice for the artificially created donors such as herself. The seemingly peculiar, controversial and exploitative experiment is treated by Kathy as if it were a normal thing to do, since she doesn’t seem to know better.

At Hailsham, the British boarding school educates the chosen youngsters to be on a mission of sacrifice they barely understand. We follow, starting in 1978, the lives of three chosen students as they attend school and then grow up in this insular environment without worldly contact into adults–Kathy H, Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley). When they’re eighteen these three are transferred to the Cottages, a halfway house, where they can be called at any time to be donors to meet their fate. While at the country retreat a love triangle develops among the three sheltered students and the more forward Ruth steals Tommy away from Kathy, the one who really loves Tommy. By 1994, Kathy has become a carer and is separated from the other two, and in a sobering way learns to deal with life’s emotional problems and the facing of death.

The ambitious movie is an uneven effort to tells us something about the impermanence of life that usually remains unspoken. It’s too bland in its conventional filmmaking to excite and never gives us enough info about the children or what’s really going on to decide for ourselves if we are witnessing something grossly evil by oppressors who act as if they’re ‘angels of mercy.’ Nevertheless, it is interesting when the young trio deal with the lies, the rumors and the misunderstandings they gather from life that made them into what they became. There’s also good performances by the three leads and the supporting players such as Charlotte Rampling (as the school’s head mistress), Sally Hawkins (as the concerned teacher who gets fired after telling the kids the truth about their self-sacrificing mission), and Nathalie Richard (as the lesbian partner of the head mistress and school patron of the arts, one of the benevolent oppressors who can only say at the end things are out of her control).