The further you descend into The Giver, the more evident it becomes that cinematic adaptation is not going to reach the intimacy or the heights of the novel from which it was adapted. There's accomplished Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce behind the lens collaborating with break out star of Son of Gun, Brenton Thwaites; with support from the Dude, Jeff Bridges and the goddess, Meryl Streep; and yet there's a struggle to strike a balance between the power of the premise and the heavy handed application. It's that old chestnut; in order for the human race to endure the survivors have constructed an idyllic, elevated and secluded society. Daily medications, suppression of the ability to emote, forced monochromic vision are the price they'll pay for a world without war, greed and starvation. However, in order to not repeat the errors of the past a single role called 'The Receiver' must be burdened with humanity and knowledge of what life can hold. That is until 'The Receiver' must pass on his knowledge to a successor, thus becoming The Giver.
Noyce does a great job of balancing the futuristic retirement community that humanity has become in mostly black and white before denoting Jonas' illumination with the full spectrum of this colourful world unfolding like his own personal little Pleasantville vision. The colours leap out of the beige in such wonderful flurries. Initiating it manifests like seeing through the eyes of Monet. Noyce also differentiates the passing of knowledge between The Giver (Bridges) and Jonas (Thwaites). Firstly there are visions of difference times and space that Jonas participates in, which are good at getting you amongst the action despite looking like they're shot by the folks behind Bold and the Beautiful. Secondly and more frustratingly is the assault of stock footage of things all over the world, which feel like the top searches for 'culture' in the YouTube search engine. This passing of memory should have been the defining element of the story and instead it lets it down on all counts.
Not being familiar with the novel that the film was based upon by Lois Lowry, one can't be sure of how the novel balanced etching out the detail of the world and focusing in on Jonas' story, particularly his tutelage from The Giver. Screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide feel like they've fallen into the same quagmire as the early Harry Potter films did; getting distracted with diving into the machinations of the universe and sacrificing time with the central sharing of knowledge and legacy. The most that resonated most for me were the exchanges between Bridges’ Giver and Thwaite's Jonas. The avalanche of knowledge, feeling and pain would have been unimaginably disorientating and it's in those glimpses that the film is saved.
Thwaites was excellent in the hands of Noyce's strong direction. There's a great innocence in Jonas that's being lost in a hurry and Thwaites gets the essentially hope welling inside the character. Bridges was a straight up curmudgeon and faux rebel; once he's interacting with Thwaites it gets better, but it's barely a character with dimension. The one actress to rule them all elevates every line that the devil's advocate Chief Elder has to spout. The scenes when she's scrutinising the decisions of Bridges' Giver underscore her talent. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård seem to be born to play parents without emotion.
While being engaging The Giver gives you too much detail when you want it to be opaque and leaves you craving and yearning for more when it's deeply ambivalent. It gives a little and doesn't take a lot.
[rating=2] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Written by: Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide (based on the novel by Lois Lowry)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift, Emma Tremblay
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.