Taking place in an alternate reality between 1978 and 1994, the film (adapted from Ishiguro's text by Alex Garland) is technically a science-fiction, whose details I won't explain here although they've been made pretty apparent by the film's trailer. Romanek is wise to not dwell on any genre trappings, but instead to focus solely on the three central characters; Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a sensitive and compassionate girl who harbours feelings for Tommy (Andrew Garfield), an awkward but soulful misfit, and Ruth (Kiera Knightley), the jealous one who snatches him from under Kathy's nose. As they grow older, the relationships between these three people shift and evolve, leading them to reconciliations and revelations.
I found myself more admiring of Garland's script than the movie as a whole. It somehow failed to really move me. Perhaps it has something to do with the literally chilly atmosphere Romanek paints, or that Rachel Portman's score (which is quite lovely, in and of itself) is mixed in too often and blatantly. Nevertheless, I could certainly detect – even if I couldn't feel it – that the passion was there on the page and in the performances, especially Mulligan's, who is the film's greatest trump card and one of the best female leads I've seen this year. Garland's script works in themes about the intangibility of love, and how, in the grand scheme of things, the amount of time we spend on this earth cannot quantify the lives we lead.
In a thick Best Actress field, I don't expect Mulligan's campaign to gain much traction, as the movie has been largely forgotten. Portman's score could find room, though. It's the delicate, elegant kind of music we've seen the Academy honour countless times before.
*** out of ****