From 2002 to 2008, Romanek became attached to a number of projects, none of which made it out of development hell. He was meant to direct an adaptation of the Philip Gourevitch non-fiction crime drama A Cold Case starring Tom Hanks, but that has thus far gone nowhere. He had decided to tackle James Frey's A Million Little Pieces but that, of course, was before it turned out that James Frey was a honking fraud. In 2008, it looked like Romanek would at last cross the finish line with The Wolf Man – and then he walked out on the eve of filming over creative differences. Journeyman director Joe Johnston will be delivering that finished product this November.
But Never Let Me Go will be the film; we know that now. Romanek has finished shooting it, from a script by Alex Garland, who is himself following up the impressive Sunshine. It stars a host of talented British actors, including Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Charlotte Rampling. It's based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose last book to be adapted into a film was The Remains of the freakin' Day, which isn't exactly chopped liver either.
It's a cool project, and something to look forward to in 2010. (When exactly it will be released in 2010 is unclear, though I wouldn't be surprised to see it do the fall film festival circuit.) But unless you've read the novel, you don't really know how cool a project this actually is – or might be. And here's the thing: I can't really tell you. I'm sorry. Because to talk about the book in any detail at all would be to spoil the book – and the movie -- fatally. It's a work that depends on your ignorance of its fundamental conceit for its power.
The trickiest part is that I can't really recommend the novel to you either. Having read it, I'm looking forward to seeing Ishiguro's vision realized on the screen, especially by a dude as visually meticulous and obviously talented as Romanek. But having let the cat out of the bag, I am convinced that I won't be nearly as affected by the film. It's hard to be sure without knowing if the finished product is actually any good, but I envy the people who will be encountering this material for the first time in Romanek's hands. Of course, those people can't know how much I envy them, or why. They haven't read the book.
I wasn't kidding when I said that I wouldn't be dispensing any details about the source material. I won't say a word about the plot. You'll thank me for it later. If Fox Searchlight, the film's US distributor, stymies my efforts to be opaque by giving away the game in the marketing, they'll be doing you – and their movie – a grave disservice. It's not that Never Let Me Go has nothing to offer aside from some big shocking twist. (The "twist," frankly, isn't even that shocking.) It's that the story gets much of its tremendous force from when and how certain very basic facts are revealed.
What was the point of this column? To get you excited about what's likely to be a hot item on next year's release calendar. And to try to convince you to stay the hell away from anything resembling a plot description of the novel or the film. If ever you've considered making an effort to go into a movie cold – tabula rasa – this is the movie.