BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
DECEMBER 14, 2014
Even Jeff Bridges cannot save “The Giver” from being a young adult retread that comes off even less inspired than its predecessors. The problem is, the Lois Lowry novel came out in 1993, fifteen years before the first “Hunger Games” novel and eighteen years before the first “Divergent” novel. That means this classic should have been the first out of the gate over a few decades ago. By holding off, the film becomes extremely derivative despite the novel being the catalyst to the entire young adult science fiction genre. To top it off, the film also waters down most of the story to make it completely consumable by all generations. Rather than challenging audiences with morality issues like class systems and imperialism, “The Giver” settles for black and white boundaries, where no one is even aware of the wrongs they are perpetrating.
The scope of the story is minuscule, following a city with a heavily medicated population whose memories beyond a certain point are non-existent. Everyone speaks properly, there are no altercations, and as portrayed through imaginary, there are no colors. Brenton Thwaites (“Oculus”, “Maleficent”) plays the lead, Jonas, just as he and his friends, Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush), reach their coming of age where they are then divvied up into their workplaces. Many aspire to be nurses, teachers, or military, but Jonas finds himself being selected as the “Receiver of Memory,” the only one to carry the knowledge of human history. The Receiver becomes an adviser to the Elder counselor, led by the quietly villainous head, played by the mega-talented Meryl Streep. Opposite her is the current Receiver, known only as the Giver, played by Jeff Bridges, whose cranky old man routine is on full display here as he passes down the world’s history to Jonas. Taylor Swift also makes an appearance in the film, as one of the strangest casting choices of the year and truly showing the studios hand in trying attract that particular age demographic.
The deck is stacked against the Receiver, as he must continue to live a normal life all while knowing what no one else knows, all while the black and white around him becomes color, and all while the unbearable emotion of what has happened in our sordid history comes swilling back after each session with the Giver. Among those emotions are feelings for Fiona, who does not know what feelings even are. How the Receiver can be expected to act natural when everything is changing around him is completely unrealistic. Jonas’ mother and father are played by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, who might as well be robots, projecting no real emotion throughout the entire film. What ends up even flatter is the mission Jonas sets off on to bring the memories back to everyone in the city. One part “Pleasantville,” two parts young adult science fiction, “The Giver” would have benefited greatly from being released ten or twenty years ago. However, a valiant and committed effort from most of the cast and a soundtrack with original popular music from OneRepublic and Capital Cities, Lois Lowry should be at least somewhat proud of her vision finally being brought to the big screen.
August 15, 2014
Robert B. Weide
by Lois Lowry
The Weinstein Company
(for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence)
Barry Alexander Brown