The Remains of the Day meets Logan's Run in this morose film adaptation of the overrated novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) are all alumni of Hailsham, a British boarding school where they were prepared for some secret purpose that was mostly intimated in sad-eyed glances. A guilty teacher (Sally Hawkins, providing yeomanly support in yet another Mulligan vehicle following An Education) spills the beans in an early sequence: Hailsham students are part of a cloning program, grown to provide vital organs to the non-test-tube human upper class. Now it's just a waiting game for Kathy, Tommy and Ruth until they "complete" their purpose---though there are rumors of deferrals should any of the clones prove their love for each other.
Ishiguro's book was an unconvincing blend of repressed romance and speculative fiction, with superficial too-polite prose and a clunky approach to narrative secrecy that wouldn't fool the gang on Scooby-Doo. Director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland transfer the story fairly faithfully to the screen. Yet they cut away some of the casual details---such as the near-campy implied lesbianism of the school headmistress (Charlotte Rampling, longing to cut loose)---that would have at least livened things up. The unrelenting sullenness is punishing, though it might have been excusable if the film's alterna-universe was in the least believable. As is, the stylistic conceit of keeping us entirely with the clones (so that we are as ill-informed as they are and never get to meet their powerful oppressors) only reveals what an empty-headed abstraction this tale was from both page and frame one.---Keith Uhlich
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