MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Giver’ Offers Nothing Of Value


Film: The Giver
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi

Working off a screenplay written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, director Phillip Noyce has delivered a frustrating and, at times, downright awful adaptation of Lois Lowry’s most beloved young adult novel.

The Giver offers a vision of the future that feels a bit like a watered-down 1984. Following the downfall of life as we know, mankind manages to rebuild society in such a way that all individuality has ceased to exist, including all color. In its place, an idea called ‘sameness’ has been put into action with the intention of uniting those who remain in a civilized manner. It has also erased all memory of life before sameness existed. The science behind how this setup came to be is never explained, nor is the process behind how the modern day leaders (known as ‘elders’) were elected. It’s all written off as having happened long before anyone existing today, and because everyone is without memory, no one thinks to question anything they’ve been told. Except for those of us in the audience, of course.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is the film’s main character. He and his closest friends have reached a point in life where they are no longer considered children and, like characters in Divergent or a dozen other dystopian tales of the future, are preparing to be given job assignments when the film opens. Everyone is given a task within the community they must do for the rest of there adult lives, but in the midst of the ceremony, Jonas is not mentioned. He’s left to stand on stage while every other teen is given a role within the town until he’s all alone in front of everyone he’s ever known. At this point — the high elder (Meryl Streep) informs Jonas he has been selected to be the receiver of memory. This literally means he will be given the memories everyone else has been forced to forget, and to do so he will work with the current receiver of memory (who will henceforth be known as the giver). Jonas does not know what to expect from his new role, or why he was chosen for such an incredibly unique position when everyone else was given a regular job, but he does as he’s told and wakes the next day to begin his new career.

It’s hard to remember exactly how I felt when I was first told to read The Giver in middle school, but I remember it leaving a lasting impact on me. Everyone can take what they want from the story, but in my mind it was always a reminder that individualism is worth more than anyone can ever understand. The ability to stand out as a unique being in a sea of similar organisms is a gift from the universe that few species receive, and in the event it’s ever taken away life as we know it would cease to exist. Unfortunately, none of this resonates from the events the take place during The Giver’s 98-minute runtime.

From the moment Jonas begins his training, The Giver begins to lose focus of its mission and how to reach its cinematically underwhelming conclusion. Mitnick and Waide take a few liberties with Lowry’s classic text in order to try and inject more life into the film, but all of this only works to further deter the action on screen from offering viewers any reason at all to care for Jonas and his plight. Instead, viewers are given glimpses of what Noyce believes best represents life through a series of colorful, albeit ultimately empty vision sequences that pair beautifully with the film’s largely black and white design. This is nice for a while, but the allure wears thin fast.

Aside from the script issues, The Giver is an incredibly ugly film. The black and white sequences were clearly filmed in color and desaturated to appear as they do, which forces the majority of the film to lack the shadows and depth typically found in such fare. Additionally, the CG is on par with Sharknado 2 in terms of believability. I understand a budget $30 million is not a lot in comparison to many films, but for the small amount of CG necessary in most sequences one would expect higher quality visuals.

The one good thing The Giver has going for it is a strong stable of talent. Working in a fictional universe where emotion has been eradicated could very well have caused the film to feel stiff, but that is thankfully not the case. The sequences with Thwaites and Bridges are the best in the film, and newcomer Odeya Rush holds her own well when opposite the likes of Meryl Streep or Katie Holmes. Even Alexander Skargard, who has essentially mastered stiff acting from his time on True Blood, delivers a convincing turn as a father with a sense of curiosity just strong enough to cause trouble.

The Giver would be a challenging film to adapt regardless of who was seated in the director’s chair, but I have to imagine there would have been better picks than Phillip Noyce. His lack of vision, coupled with a script that takes too many liberties with the source material, make this film fall far short of anything fans could have hoped to see. It may be more Hollywood friendly now, but that evolution came at the cost of the original tale’s heart, and I think most people will prefer what was written back in 1993 to what is being projected in theaters today.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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