“The Giver” is a very engrossing look at what life might be like in the future with no remembrances of the past. Directed by Phillip Noyce, with screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, based on Lois Lowry’s book, “The Giver” takes place in dystopian times, after what the film calls, the Ruin. Births are genetically engineered and the resulting children placed into families. Citizens live with a set of rules in which everyone is equal, no harsh language is used, there is no color and seemingly no emotion. When one reaches 16, there is a ceremony in which the future is decided for each person by a group known as the Elders.
It’s on the cusp of this important event that we are introduced to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), his two closest friends—Fiona and Asher (Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan)—and his mother (Katie Holmes), father (Alexander Skarsgård) and sister, Lilly (Emma Tremblay). On the day of the ceremony, we meet the Elders, who are led by the Chief Elder, a long-grey-haired Meryl Streep. In this group is one Elder with the power to remember the past, The Giver, a grey and gnarly Jeff Bridges. At the ceremony, Jonas is seemingly passed over for assignment. However, the Chief Elder comes back to him at the end, saying that Jonas didn’t fit neatly into any one category and was deemed special. As such, Jonas will be the Receiver of Memories, mentored by The Giver. It’s Jonas’ sessions with The Giver that fuels the remaining story.
For the most part “The Giver” is devoid of special effects which allows for the film’s tone and mood to have an eerily calming aspect that somehow seems right. The grey tones in which much of “The Giver” is shot adds to this feeling. It’s only when memories come into play that we see color and movement.
“The Giver’s” cast is a very strong one, headed by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. Streep really doesn’t have much to do except act authoritative and she is fine, albeit wasted. Bridges is extremely good, however, as the man with memories. Bridges is only 64, but in the film seems years older—maybe from the burden of harboring memories. Taylor Swift has a very brief, but important role, and in her scenes with Bridges, she is actually very good. Bridges has a knack for working well with younger actors and his interactions with Swift and Brenton Thwaites’ Jonas are quite compelling. In reality Thwaites is 25, playing 16, but he does so very convincingly. His work with Bridges and especially Odeya Rush as Fiona is very good and his scenes with Fiona seem a like a genuine portrayal of young love. Alexander Skarsgård has a very good turn as a care-giver and his scenes with the baby, Gabriel, are extremely sweet (and from where do these baby actors come—the babies playing Gabriel are amazing)—until they’re not. Katie Holmes as the strict mother is terrific to the point of being almost scary, she is so devoid of emotion.
Jeff Bridges tried for a very long time to bring “The Giver” to the screen. Compared with other “new society” YA films like “Divergent” and the “The Hunger Games,” “The Giver” is much more quiet, but no less intelligent. He should be proud and happy with the results.