Release date: Aug. 15, 2014
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Written by: Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide
Jeff Bridges battled for eighteen years to bring Lois Lowry's "The Giver" to the big screen. Unfortunately, now that it's here, the film feels like a rushed cliff notes version of a story that is both incredibly interesting as well as deeply thought provoking. It will certainly leave you wanting more, but only because you won't feel you've been given enough.
It seems like all of these teen novel book adaptations take place in a distant future in which some sort of apocalyptic end of the world scenario has taken place and "The Giver" is no different. The story takes place in a utopian society in which the Elders have determined the only way to save humanity is to take away the emotions that cause distress and create a "sameness". Everyone wears the same clothes. They speak with precise language.
The events of the movie are set in motion when Jonah (Brenton Thwaites) participates in a right-of-passage ceremony in which all 18 year-olds -- a change from the book, where the kids are 11 -- are assigned their life careers. Some are chosen as birth givers, others as caretakers, or parents, teachers, etc. But Jonah is chosen as "The Receiver" a special job that requires him to learn about every single human memory from all of history, in order to become the wise sage who will then give advice to Elders.
The story is incredibly deep. As Jonah begins his training with Jeff Bridges, the current Receiver, he learns of the beauties of life that people are being deprived of, like the thrill of love, or the excitement of laughter. But he also learns about war, and greed, and hatred. The film raises a lot of interesting questions about how human emotions play into even the worst events in human history, but also how our distinct emotions are what determine our individuality. The problem is the film clocks in at 94 minutes, which is not nearly enough time to really flesh out how Jonah deals with the weight of his burden. Yes, it's the rare movie that isn't long enough.
It probably goes without saying, but Jeff Bridges is terrific as The Elder Receiver, or as he calls himself, The Giver, since he's the one giving the memories to Jonah. He was great chemistry with Thwaites, who was seen recently as Prince Phillip in "Maleficent". Thwaites may have potential as a leading actor someday, but with the plot development on fast forward, he isn't given much time to develop chemistry with the other actors from love interest Odeya Rush ("The Odd Life of Timothy Green") to his parental unit, Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård.
Oscar winner Meryl Streep gives the film a solid heavy as the Chief Elder who fears the worst will happen if the memories of emotion suddenly return to her people. She isn't so much the bad guy here so much as she is the antagonist who feels ignorance is the best way to protect her people. The driving question is the morality that goes into protecting people through fear. She's already witnessed The Giver lose a pupil, played in flashbacks by Taylor Swift, who wasn't able to handle the knowledge that her entire life was a lie.
"The Giver" is a thought provoking movie that unfortunately doesn't give the audience enough time to really think about what's going on. Devotees of Lowry's novel may bicker about whether or not they like the changes made and audiences who aren't familiar with the story may feel a little let down by the brief summarization of the plot. But the film has enough going for it to over come these deficiencies. It's just a shame that after an eighteen year battle to bring this movie to the screen, the filmmakers were in such a hurry to get to the end credits.
Running time: 94 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence