Do teenagers have any books where the future is not depressing?! Academy Award winners Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes star in The Giver.
Cast of Characters:
The Giver – Jeff Bridges
The Chief Elder – Meryl Streep
Jonas – Brenton Thwaites
Jonas’s Father – Alexander Skarsgard
Jonas’s Mother – Katie Holmes
Rosemary – Taylor Swift
Asher – Cameron Monaghan
Fiona – Odeya Rush
Lily – Emma Tremblay
Director – Phillip Noyce
Screenplay – Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide
Based on the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry
Producer – Jeff Bridges, Neil Koenigsberg & Nikki Silver
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence
In a Utopian society, everything is about “sameness”. There’s no color, religion, choice, memory or emotion, which the society believes lead to hate, anger, racism, and war. People apologize for even the smallest things, certain words seem to be extinct, and families are manufactured units.
On his 18th birthday, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been assigned by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to be the new Receiver of Memory. As the new Receiver, Jonas will receive all memories of before from the Giver (Jeff Bridges), but as he inherits these memories, he begins to discover a dark secret.
Unlike many other kids in school, I have not read the 1993 children’s novel this film is based on. I was reading Tolkien, Lewis, Stevenson and creeping my classmates out with Stoker. Unlike most of this current YA craze (save The Hunger Games, of course) that’s all about how sucky the future’s gonna be or how vampires really seem to be pussies, The Giver has an intriguing setup with this Orwellian Stepford-like community that, if this film did anything right, at least sparked my interest in the book.
The film, though? Meh.
That’s not to say this film is without merit. Director Phillip Noyce has done fine work before with two of the better Jack Ryan films (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger) and the great The Quiet American (which features one of Brendan Fraser’s best performances), and the world he’s created here is quite fascinating. The use of color and the way Noyce distinguishes the world with emotion from without is very beautifully done. The problem is there are great themes begging to be presented in full here (sacrificing the good emotion can bring for the sake of eliminating the bad), yet Noyce and writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide take half-measures in fleshing them and the characters out.
And if Mike Ehrmantraut taught Walter White anything, it’s, “Walt… No… half… measures.”
Jeff Bridges gives a pained performance as the title character, and out of all the characters, his has the most depth. There’s a sadness and torment to the lonely Giver, the only one in the entire community that has access to every memory and emotion, and Bridges effectively captures the Giver’s heartbreak, despite having to deliver some corny dialogue. Bridges was attached to this film as a producer for the 20 years it was stuck in development hell, and it’s a shame that for a film that took him so long to get off the ground, the result is less than satisfactory ’cause he does deliver. I will say, though, I’m a little worn out by the “Jodie Foster and Bill Cosby had a baby” vocal schtick he’s been doing ever since he did the remake of True Grit.
Don’t worry. We’ll get to hear more of it in next year’s Seventh Son. Slur away, Jeff.
The remaining cast don’t really add much. Streep gives a good performance, though she’s stuck in a one-note antagonist role. Brenton Thwaites shows some signs of life every now and then, but is kinda flat when he isn’t being overshadowed by Bridges. The rest of the cast, which includes Alexander Skarsgard and Tom Cruise’s baby mama Katie Holmes, don’t really add much. I understand, given the story and the characters, there has to be a sorta drone-ish vibe about them, but the story never takes off like it should. Intriguing ideas are presented and then left aside, and the rushed climactic conclusion has no sense of danger or intrigue.
Also, it’s odd and contradictory that despite this society taking daily medication that voids them of any emotion, they still seem to show emotion from time to time.
Going back to Katie Holmes, though. I did get an amusing kick out of seeing her cast as a devoted follower of a cult-like society. The symbolism there is quite striking.
That’s right, Scientology. I’m making fun of you. Go ahead and send your lawyers.
Despite an overall graceful look provided by director Phillip Noyce and a strong performance from Jeff Bridges, The Giver only goes halfway in presenting its material to the viewer. The mythology behind this pleasant-looking yet stark society has a wealth of promise to it, and deep down, there’s something thought-provoking within this story, but the film just doesn’t dig far enough.
I give The Giver a C (★★½).
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