Jeff Bridges stars in Lois Lowry's masterpiece novel "The Giver" opening this Friday, August 15 across the country. The book debuted in 1993 and has since then gathered thousands of fans who have literally been waiting years and years for the book to be developed into a film.
The story centers around Jonas, a young adult living in what appears to be a perfect Utopian-like society where everyone gets along, there's no crime, and no one ever tells a lie. He lives with a mom (Katie Holmes), a dad (Alexander Skarsgård), and a sister all making up the perfect nuclear family. His mom is on the council that enforces the rules of the community, and his dad works for the nurturing center (where babies are initially raised). Jonas is approaching a time in his life where he will be awarded his profession and given a place in society so that he can give back. When his role is announced to be the next Giver his life is turned upside down, especially when he meets the current "The Giver" (Bridges).
The title "The Giver" is also the role and name of the character who is allowed to hold all of the memories of humanity and played stunningly by Jeff Bridges. Bridges who plays double duty as producer is one of the high lights of the film. As The Giver, it's his job to live outside of the paradigm of his culture, and to know the difference of life "now," versus the life "before." Each Giver is tasked with holding this information which in likened to being in pain. The story revolves around how Jonas takes on his role as "The Giver" under the tutelage of the senior "Giver."
There is a unique perspective to take in account when considering how good or how bad this film is. An intricate part of the story is that everyone except "The Giver" is rendered nearly emotionless, and incapable of passionate feelings towards anything as part of the initial story-line. Because of this, it's harder for this film to evoke strong emotions one way of the other in it's characters and overall span of the film. This can leave a viewer feeling somewhat distant and less committed to the characters but at the same time, is intricate to telling a story that follows the source material by Lowry and why so many cherish this novel. That division between feeling deep emotions and expressing them, and not being capable of it is the main motivator of the film and it's character Jonas. If you had lively characters with dynamic personalities, then it would defeat the purpose and overall merit of the story. Once you consider this key aspect, evaluating the film takes on a different meaning, one of which many critics may gloss over in favor of just judging the film on it's acting merits or comparing it to "Divergent" and "The Hunger Games" unfairly.
As an example, Katie Holmes plays the role of Jonas's mom. If you judged her performance you would say she is wooden, emotionless, and dull. However, that's what the role is about. There's not a lot of redeeming qualities about being dull and lifeless. So taking this in to account, you can't be to hard on her performance or many of the others. Even Meryl Streep has vestiges of emotion seeping out of her carefully controlled character hinting from the get-go that her character is off her meds (never developed in the film).
Despite these huge challenges for director Philip Noyce (Salt) to create dynamic characters within these constraints, he still manages to work around that by using the sets and scenery almost as a character unto itself. Using black and white palettes and then suffusing moments of color into what seems ordinary in our world, takes on a new meaning in "The Giver." For that alone, the movie deserves to be given more leeway in the development of it's primary characters, and their performances. However, even with smart uses of camera techniques and color choices the film still falls a bit flat in some regards but not because of Noyce's visual story-telling ability. The flat moments are wholly directed towards the actual source material. The novel in itself though cherished by many, is not perfect either. The ending is a bit of a leap of faith, but it is technically science fiction so you are either a fan or not.
"The Giver" moves along at a nice pace at an hour and forty-five minutes. Noyce does an excellent job of developing a world that is at first devoid of crime, danger, and painting a picture of a society that is content and then contrasting it with brilliant choices in color and character development. The cast with the exception of Bridges, follows closely the character requirements of the source material (dull and static) which challenges audiences to care. Jeff Bridges performance makes the film more than worthwhile, however main stream critics are going to gloss over "The Giver's" resemblance to other teen-like dramas without giving the film credit for it's purposely lifeless characters initially and it's ability to contrast those with color and perspective. The film scores a solid "B" and it's ability to evoke empathy in a world without it is worthwhile.
PG-13, 1 hr. 40 min.
Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Written By: Lois Lowry, Vadim Perelman
In Theaters: Aug 15, 2014 Wide
The Weinstein Company - Official Site
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush