Based on the book by Lois Lowry, Brenton Thwaites stars as Jonas – a young man being given a massive responsibility. The world appears to be a perfect utopia free of pain, war, sadness, class warfare, racism and rainy days, but, as our young hero is about to find out, the world is quite dystopian.
While the powerful in this society have erased all record of the disastrous turn of events that compelled them to sanitize the world and wipe those memories from our collective conscience (along with all emotions, connections and free will), Jonas has been selected to be The Receiver of Memory, and he works closely with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) – an elderly man who is the only one to know the truth about society’s past and holds all of the world’s real memories, emotions and ideas that were stamped out in this intellectual cleansing. For some reason, he is to pass all of it to Jonas. What could go wrong?
However, like every teen who gets a bit of knowledge, Jonas leaps forward and becomes a troublemaker trying to change the world, show everyone the positive side of their horrific past, and win over the love of his life (you knew a young lady was going to be tossed into the mix at some point, right?).
Can Jonas change everything before The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) can catch him and rub him out?
While our characters on screen are going through an emotional awakening, the audience is being put to sleep.
Director Phillip Noyce and writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide need to pump it up! The Giver is much too bland for a movie about something as important as humanity’s salvation. This kid is supposed to be battling for our souls, so let’s have a bit of excitement here.
Worst of all, Noyce and the team only give us glimpses of story and plot. The Giver is thin on details.
Scenes where Jonas learns about the world as it used to be are flashes without context and meaning. He (and the audience) should be getting lessons about each situation, but only get the emotion, which is quite difficult to express in this medium. Maybe when we can have emotions pumped into our brains The Giver would be more powerful, but here it is a yawnfest.
The weak love triangle feels forced into the story. Allusions to the tortured and disastrous past are never truly shown to the audience, and we never discover the details about how this sanitized society came to be. Are they holding out for a sequel?
Plus, we need to know more about the position of Receiver of Knowledge (doesn’t someone in Human Resources have a job description to share with us?). There are offhand remarks about this person being an advisor and leader within the community, but the audience doesn’t get to see it, and we never understand why the evil, powerful, conniving Elders would let this one person walk around free with all of the big secrets of society tucked away in his brain. That seems like disaster (or a movie plot) waiting to happen.
Noyce and the team do make The Giver look very intriguing. The gray, emotionless world opens up into wondrous color as Jonas and others start to see more and feel more. It’s akin to the 90s film Pleasantville in that sense. This is the one way the audience can feel the rigidness of this society, its rules, and the way humanity has been muted.
Teens will like the idea of fighting the power, distrust of authority, sneaking an illicit kiss and letting bottled up emotions explode, but The Giver comes off as yet another mopey, teen angst, dystopian drama even if it does feature actors like Bridges and Streep.
The Giver is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.