Plot: In a society where feelings and emotions are controlled, and nobody has memories of the past, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen to be the next receiver of memories from the Giver (Jeff Bridges), the one man who holds knowledge of the past. As Jonas begins to feel, he starts to question the very nature of his own world.
We’ve seen this premise done a hundred times – it’s the future, and everyone acts like emotionless drones. Someone starts to “feel,” and he tries to bring down society. The end. Sometimes it’s done well, sometimes poorly. Unfortunately, The Giver leans towards the “poor” spectrum. While okay for the most part, The Giver plays it safe, feels rushed, and is a mostly forgettable experience. It made me want to go home and watch movies like Equilibrium or WALL-E, which do this story much better. What The Giver does have though are good performances, which makes it all the more frustrating on why this film could have been better.
Getting Meryl Streep to be in your movie is a big deal. You shouldn’t waste it, but they do. Streep plays Chief Elder, the de facto leader of this whole society. There’s no reason for her to play this role. Aside from a couple nice lines towards the end with Jeff Bridges, she’s a completely forgettable character/villain. It’s amazing what Streep is able to convey with literally nothing. This is how Felix Hernandez must feel every year he pitches for the Seattle Mariners. Bottom-line: I’m always happy to see Meryl Streep, but the opportunity was squandered.
The actor they did not squander however was Jeff Bridges. What really saved this film was the character of the Giver. In fact, this movie was pretty awful in the first ten minutes, but as soon as he comes on screen with his grizzled angsty looking beard, the film started to draw me in. The Giver is the only person who has memories of the past world, something he uses to advise the Chief Elder. The heart of the film is when he begins training with his apprentice, Jonas. The dynamic and flashbacks of memories they have together are powerful, as Jonas starts to see images of the past world, both positive and negative. Although, it could have been more subtle, as I’ve seen done better in movies of this ilk.
While Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are the headliners, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is our true protagonist. Thwaites is solid enough, and to be fair, a lot better than many of his young adult novel counterparts. You buy into the change of emotion he goes through during the course of the film. We also have his two best friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). Their dialogue together was horrendous. They are also supposed to be emotionless, but there were times in the beginning where they acted like semi normal teenagers. It was completely inconsistent. You do buy the chemistry between Jonas and Fiona, as Odeya Rush gives a very effective performance, especially towards the end. Cameron Monaghan as Asher though was a different story, and close to Taylor Lautner/Jacob level bad.
The other performance I liked (and I’ll catch hell for this) was Katie Holmes as mother to Jonas. She committed herself the most to the emotionless persona of the community, and was a symbol for what Jonas was fighting for. The performance is just subtle enough that you can see she’s just a victim of her society, so you can’t completely hate her.
While it has some good acting and solid characters to latch onto, the biggest problem with this movie is how unimportant it feels. The director (Phillip Noyce) does a poor job of telling me why I need to care. The fact that the ending felt both rushed and dragged out at the same time is a sign that your movie failed where it counts most. They make it seem like Jonas is undertaking this impossible task, but it came across as really easy, with barely any struggle. It’s the epitome of being anti-climactic I’ve never read the book, but even I can tell this adaptation feels gutted, so I’m not sure how fans of the novel will take it. Jeff Bridges saves face a little bit, but sometimes you can’t rescue a movie from mediocrity.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘meh’)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.