When I say I haven’t read the 1993 young adult novel The Giver by Lois Lowry, you may just leave this page and consider my review insignificant. I hope that you don’t. I believe that the 2014 film adaptation by Phillip Noyce is one of the most underrated movies of the year. It is uncomfortably settling into its 29% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I have no idea why. Perhaps the majority of the reviewers are those who have read the book and hold it dear. Face it people. Movies change things. Then again, maybe the movie is just bad and I am terrible at analyzing movies. However, I think the former is the case here.
The story of The Giver is one that is known by many across the world. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus) gets the shock of his life when he is chosen to be the new Receiver of Memory. Don’t know what that is? Well, Jonas lives in a Utopian society where sameness is prominent. Everyone is equal for the purpose of a better suited environment. But the Receiver of Memory is the one who knows things. He knows pretty much everything. He knows how life used to be. He knows about snow and sleds and love. These are things that no longer exist in this society. The Receiver is allowed access to these memories in case they become useful in his position’s duties. Jonas learns things about old life though. The truth. Not everything is good. He is forced to learn about war and cruelty that once plagued the land. But as he learns things from the former Receiver (Jeff Bridges), now dubbed The Giver, he realizes secrets are being kept by the elders of the Community (led by Meryl Streep) and he finds himself looking at life in a whole new way.
The Giver is Jeff Bridges’ passion project. He has made it clear that he has been wanting to make this movie for years now. I’m not entirely sure if he got what he was hoping for with the final product, but it’s hard to deny that he brings care and enthusiasm to his subtle and sweet performance as the Giver. Brendan Thwaites, who starred alongside Karen Gillan in Oculus, also gives a good performance as Jonas, even if he doesn’t manage to stand out in this central performance. It’s quite a surprise to say that in the middle of some good acting (includingKatie Holmes at her creepy best), Meryl Streep is the one to be wasted. Really though, she is given hardly any screen time at all and when her times come she is given nothing more than a few lines that slip the mind within seconds.
But there’s no denying the look of the movie. It does a nice job at messing with the color pallet as the story requires scenes to shift from black and white to color repeatedly. Yes, we’ve seen this same strategy play out before in movies like Pleasantville, but it’s still nice to see it done well. Director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games) does a fair job at capturing this Utopian society with some great shots and some cool scenery.
There’s no helping the script, though. It is littered with bad dialogue and eye rolling moments with its romantic subplots. At times I felt like the movie clearly inserted certain things just for the purpose of appealing to a certain demographic (Taylor Swift, anyone?) It’s funny. Lois Lowry’s book is highly regarded as a classic and its social allegories are the pinnacle of the book’s achievements. This adaptation chooses to hide its allegorical potential and take the safe route. It’s a film that puts its romantic subplots above its groundbreaking social remarks which stay hidden beneath the ground. Fortunately, the movie is entertaining and Jeff Bridges is terrific as the titular character. If you’re looking for a Giver adaptation that raises its voice over its style, you won’t find it here. But it’s a good looking and enjoyable attempt.
The Giver (2014)
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action violence
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holes, Meryl Streep
Writer: Mixhael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide
Director: Phillip Noyce