In any walk of life and popular culture we are all going to be subject to the whims of the current trends and fads. The young adult genre of novels have been selling up a storm these days, but that doesn't mean that they should all be made into movies. "The Giver" has been sitting around for quite awhile and probably for good reason as it is a story that just doesn't translate all that well to the screen.
Young Jonas (Brendan Thwaites) lives a quite unassuming life that at first glance actually seems pretty ideal in a place where everyone conforms and everyone is quite content, very much a black and white kind of existence. However on the day that he graduates school and is scheduled to receive his life assignment as he gets the job as the communities Receiver of Knowledge. Little does he know the responsibilities that this entails as the "Giver" (Jeff Bridges) leads him down this path and the more he learns the costs behind the serenity of his community he is forced to wonder if the existence that he is known his entire life is worth giving up everything that he is being shown on how life and humanity used to be.
Going for more of a spiritual or emotionally reaction then something like "The Hunger Games" or "Divergent"; "The Giver" is trying to get us to the raw emotion of young adulthood and learning how to deal with it, but it just fails to resonate on any genuine levels as the entire narrative almost plays out like a dream, since it looks great but just doesn't make enough sense to take it too seriously either.
Director Philip Noyce is a solid although ultimately unremarkable hand at direction. The movie looks very good and is given somewhat of an ethereal or other worldly feel and shooting in a sepia tone haze through most of the movie did give it a fantastic feel. While the narrative was supposedly fairly true to the book by Lois Lowry, it feels like so much of the material isn't all that particularly visual and it plays better in the mind of the reader then it would with someone trying to express it on screen. It's striking, but it lacks any universal emotional connection for it to work with audiences that may not be familiar with the source book. It's hard to have a cinematic protagonist that just doesn't have or spends most of the movie finding his emotions and the material was an uphill battle for all involved.
Brandon Thwaites is an up and comer, and while he is fine in this he is much more interesting in things like "Oculus" then he is here. He admittedly is the one with the most to do, but it the material never genuinely allows any of the actors to feel any genuine stakes. The character work is hamstrung when it just doesn't try to make that much sense, trying to ambiguous to create some mystery and empathy but it just generates frustration. Jeff Bridges as the Giver, who also served as a producer on this movie may have held on to this pet project a bit longer then he should have as the book was written in 1993. He plays the sage wise man just as good as the next actor, but can't stand out from the material which felt a bit dated. The rest of the ensemble includes the iconic Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgaard, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift but we never really care.
At the end of the day, "The Giver" tries hard to create an environment where the tumultuous nature of young emotion is grappled with and explored, but the movie just doesn't do enough to for us to honestly get behind it. Granted I might not be the audience for this, but I would have thought this was kind of dull when I was that age and I can't see anyone else currently in that Young Adult wheelhouse not feeling exactly the same way.
1 out of 5 stars.
"The Giver" is now playing at theatres across the country, please check with local listings for show times.