Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a Mature Thematic Image and some Sci-Fi Action/Violence
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Written by: Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide
(based on the novel THE GIVER by Lois Lowry)
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift & Cameron Monaghan
I never read Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and can’t give a detailed description on if the book holds up to the source material. With the recent trend of young adult fiction turned into films that usually involve supernatural romance or a futuristic dystopian society, I can say that THE GIVER stands strong against the competition. It’s like a somewhat easier version of Orwell’s 1984. The film fumbles here and there, but ultimately winds up being a good flick that has befallen a similar fate to last year’s superior ENDER’S GAME. This movie isn’t doing well at the box office, nor is it receiving many good reviews. All this being set aside for the moment, I enjoyed THE GIVER a lot.
In a community that is literally black and white, society has become less about people functioning and more about functioning itself. This community is absent of color, emotions and anything resembling a natural human instinct. It’s as boring a place as you can imagine where sameness is supreme and everybody is an emotionless tool living a pointless existence. Jonas is a boy living in this would-be utopia and has been assigned a unique job. He has become the new receiver of memories. This bland society has no idea about the history that led up to this point, the ultimate consequences of actions, or any feelings whatsoever with the exception of one person: the receiver of memory. Jonas is trained by the old receiver and learns about the past behind his world, joy and pain, along with the ultimate uselessness of a society populated with blank slates. As Jonas yearns to show others what they are missing out on, he becomes a danger to those in charge and discovers the darker side to this supposed perfect world.
THE GIVER had me interested for the entire time it was playing out. Though it’s not the best young adult adaptation around (the underappreciated ENDER’S GAME still beats this by miles), it’s refreshing to see a film like this tackle a meaningful message in an effective way. There are shocking moments, including one revelation that takes things into very dark territory. Though some naïve tweens have taken to message boards ranting about how THE GIVER is ripping off DIVERGENT and HUNGER GAMES, it’s actually the other way around. GIVER was written in the early 90’s and echoes of Orwell’s 1984 nicely. The adaptation of THE GIVER never fully goes on into the utter tear-wrenching hopelessness that Orwell’s novel captured, but it’s still mighty bleak.
One thing I noticed right away about THE GIVER is how believable this world was. Everything is fleshed out. The sets are incredible, along with some other nice additions to these (the design of something as simple as a bike shows the community for how truly bland it is). The color scheme also varies depending on whose point of view a scene is in. With emotionless dregs, everything is a stark black and white. As Jonas gets more training, the world lights up around him with various colors. Though only for a few scenes, the inside of buildings are great as well. I believed that I was looking into another world and that’s half the battle of getting a viewer engaged into this film.
The rest of the battle is won with good writing and mostly solid acting. Brenton Thwaites has been criticized for being too old for the role of Jonas, but this element has definitely been changed from the book to film (kind of like ENDER’S GAME). Thwaites has thus far been in three different movies I’ve seen this year with three varying results: good in MALEFICENT, decent in OCULUS, and bad in THE SIGNAL. As Jonas, Thwaites proves himself to be a more than capable actor who can be a compelling character when given the right role. Jeff Bridges is getting older and it helps his character of The Giver (the old receiver of memories training Jonas), but Bridges also brings everything he has to the table for this sympathetic tragic figure. Alexander Skarsgard shines in the side-role of Jonas’s father. The other two young cast members are rather forgettable, though that might be attributed to their blank slate characters. As far as sinister forces go, I found Katie Holmes (Jonas’s mother) to be far more intimidating than Meryl Streep as the community leader. Holmes brought serious A-game to this role and got me to hate her by acting like a cold emotionless bitch (who her literally character was).
THE GIVER is not without some issues. Some of the flashbacks/memories being seen on-screen can be a little cheesy. Parts of the movie (especially near the ending) feel rushed. The third act pushes plausibility to everything the viewer has been shown up to this point and doesn’t take its time to play things out into smooth transitions. Taylor Swift appears in a couple of scenes and doesn’t fare well as an actress. The ending is too tidy as well, complete with unneeded narration that also appeared throughout certain parts of the film from Jonas. The novel might have been written in this format of Jonas telling us the story, but the film would have benefitted from the viewer being shown this without knowing hints of the conclusion in advance.
It’s ironic that an interesting and intelligent science-fiction flick adapted from a young adult novel is receiving so much flack from the same crowd that digs on stuff like DIVERGENT. THE GIVER is not without its share of problems (see the above paragraph), but it’s a well-constructed flick. I dug the world being shown, the acting was solid from nearly everyone, and cool ideas were presented in risky ways. One scene won’t be forgotten any time soon. I hope that THE GIVER and ENDER’S GAME both get the recognition they deserve in the future. Like ENDER, THE GIVER is an already underrated gem of science fiction tackling mature issues in a teen-friendly way. Check this one out.