Brenton Thwaites as Jonas
Jeff Bridges as The Giver
Meryl Streep as Chief Elder
Alexander Skarsgård as Father
Katie Holmes as Mother
Odeya Rush as Fiona
Cameron Monaghan as Asher
Taylor Swift as Rosemary
Emma Tremblay as Lilly
Alexander and James Jillings as Gabriel 12 Months
Jordan Nicholas Smal as Gabriel 3 Months
Saige Fernandes as Gabriel 6 Months
Renate Stuurman as Dinah
Directed by Philip Noyce
In a world where all emotion is stifled by dictated by the Elders, a young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assigned the prestigious role as Receiver of Memories, making him the only person in the Community with knowledge of the world before its current state. He goes into training with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who shares those memories with him, but the more Jonas learns, the more he starts to question the Community’s way of life which puts him at odds with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).
Some might feel bad for “The Giver” since it’s likely to be labeled a “copycat” to movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” even though it’s based on Lois Lowry’s novel that was published over twenty years ago, long before any of those other popular young adult book series.
Because it’s taken so long for anyone to adopt Lowry’s novel, it automatically feels derivative of those other science fiction adaptations, particularly how the people of the Community are divided into a class system that gives them almost no say on their future, which is dictated entirely by a system put into place by the Elders.
The most immediately striking thing about “The Giver” is that it begins entirely in black and white, giving it a feel not unlike “Pleasantville,” which was the first film from “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross. It’s not played up as a gimmick as much as a way to differentiate the world from our town.
Maybe it’s the familiar nature of the story that makes it hard to get into the premise of a young man named Jonas, who learns what the world used to be like and how music, dance, love and the good things were counterbalanced by war, death and the like. It’s also possible the movie’s undoing comes in it trying to be too faithful to the novel (which I haven’t read), by trying to maintain every beat and much of the dialogue, but that’s just the way things are in this world so stifled by rules and laws.
The first or second time someone reprimands another person with the line “precision of language” i.e. “Don’t use words that have been banned by the Elders” it’s sort of amusing, but by the fifth or sixth time, it gets harder not to snicker, maybe because it seems to be the only thing Katie Holmes says in the movie. The same can be said for the constant stream of apologies everyone makes, another part of how this society tries to keep its citizens from getting into conflict. It gets equally tiring to watch Jonas constantly eyeing common things with wonderment, everything from a sled in the snow and people dancing, since these things are so foreign in his world.
Bridges gives some amount of weight and gravitas to what isn’t a particularly exciting story or character while Meryl Streep seems to be putting about as much effort into playing the community leader as Taylor Swift does in her small role as Jonas’ predecessor. The rest of the cast just seems to be going through the motions giving the type of lifeless performances that often come with the territory, and it’s hard to take much of it seriously when everyone is talking like they’re Coneheads (look it up).
One would hope having a skilled director like Philip Noyce (“Patriot Games”) at the helm would make a big difference in setting “The Giver” apart from lesser efforts, and he does give the film a visually striking look, particularly when it cuts to Jonas’ full-color visions while being trained by the Giver. The Marco Beltrami score does what it can to bring some semblance of drama and emotion to the film’s otherwise stagnant tone, but the music often feels like it’s being used as a crutch to bring emotion to a relatively flat story and at times, it gets overbearing.
The Bottom Line:
It’s hard to get excited about a movie based around such a bland premise that never ventures too far beyond the most obvious and expected places. If young adult adaptations have become like a snake eating its own tail, “The Giver’s” bland story about an emotionless society and its young savior does little to break that cycle.