On one level, Never Let Me Go consists of a love triangle between two girls and a boy who attend the same boarding school.
At first, we see them as children in 1979, but as the years go by, they grow into teenagers played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, who reunite years later as adults. But there's something subtly sinister about their upbringings. The children have letters for surnames. They never mention their parents. The friends, it appears, live in a world that, in some fundamental way, is different from ours.
If you don't want to know the key difference, stop reading now – although as it's spelt out within the film's first 25 minutes, this isn't that much of a spoiler. Here it is, anyway: the three friends and their classmates are all clones, created and raised to donate vital organs to anyone who needs them. They all know and accept their fate, as does society as a whole.
The notion that nobody would question such a system is inspired, and it enhances the film's Orwellian, not-quite-right atmosphere. But it's also ludicrous. A school full of well-spoken, educated children who are willing to be chopped to pieces? Really? For a science-fiction conceit to have any resonance, we have to believe that we'd react in much the same way as the characters do in their situation. Never Let Me Go fails that test. Michael Bay's action movie, The Island, had a comparable concept, but its donor-clones were kept in a secret laboratory where they were at the disposal of super-rich clients. And despite all the exploding helicopters, it was more logical than Never Let Me Go.
Still, the film is based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, and considering how much acclaim was heaped on the book, some people must be able to overlook its fundamental absurdity. I'd also concede that this is a lyrical, evocative adaptation. But Never Let Me Go doesn't leave you pondering the human condition, as some fans have claimed, because no one in it behaves like a human being.
Paul stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as science-fiction fanatics Graeme and Clive, who are on a road trip through the American Midwest when a little greenish man from outer space hitches a ride in their camper van. A life-changing experience? Well, no. Graeme and Clive start the film as two decent, cheerful friends. They meet a decent, cheerful, friendly alien (a computer-generated Gollum voiced by Seth Rogen, the world's least-versatile actor). And soon they're joined by a woman (Kristen Wiig) who quickly becomes decent, cheerful and friendly, too. True, there are FBI agents on their trail, but Paul – which Pegg and Frost co-wrote – is too cosy to be very exciting. It's less Hot Fuzz than warm and fuzzy.
There's one bold, but swiftly dispensed-with contention that sufficient education can quash anyone's religious beliefs, but otherwise the film is surprisingly unoriginal. Even the idea that an alien might smoke dope is familiar from the posters on countless student walls, and everything else is familiar from E.T. and Race to Witch Mountain – everything, that is, except for all the swearing. Like Rogen's last film, The Green Hornet, Paul isn't the genre-twisting comedy I'd hoped for, but a pleasant, well-crafted children's film that's been crammed with enough rude words to stop children seeing it.
Nicholas Barber braces himself for Confessions, Japan's dark entrant for the Best Foreign Film Oscar
Also Showing: 13/02/2011
Gnomeo & Juliet (84 mins, U)
You guessed it, it's a cartoon about two gnomes from adjacent back gardens who fall in love. What you might not have guessed is that Gnomeo & Juliet is a lively, sweet, reasonably clever bit of half-term fun.
Just Go With It (116 mins, 12A)
Adam Sandler plays a plastic surgeon who, for some stupid reason, tells his new girlfriend that he has an ex-wife, and then persuades his assistant, Jennifer Aniston, to pretend to be her. The titular request proves impossible to grant.
Yogi Bear (80 mins, PG)
A live-action take on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, with a computer-generated Yogi and Boo Boo. It's OK, and certainly less tiresome than the equivalent big-screen treatment of Scooby-Doo.
Son of Babylon (88 mins, 12A)
Powerful road movie set in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and deposing of Saddam Hussein. A Kurdish boy and his grandmother travel the country in search of his missing father.
Hollywood slugger David O Russell proves a contender in kitchen-sink boxing drama The Fighter, with Oscar nominees Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. The life and times of a charismatic orang-utan are recounted in Nénette, the latest compelling documentary from France's Nicolas Philibert.Reuse content