Give it a chance
Based on Lois Lowry’s award-winning beloved young adult novel of the same name, “The Giver” is a gentler, thought-provoking look than most of YA-based dystopian films that have flooded theaters over the last several years. Since its source material is now more than 20 years old, pre-dating most of the other young adult novels brought to the big screen recently, the film feels a little late to the market. But solid performances, exceptional monochrome cinematography that adds a “Twilight Zone” feel and terrific pacing make it a worthy film in this crowded genre.
Though not nearly as violent or elaborate as “The Hunger Games” franchise, “The Giver” should resonate with the target market that appreciates understated storytelling even if doesn’t capture the magic of the book – which is itself a tired refrain. Can we all admit that movie adaptations rarely live up to the typically unfair expectations of passionate book fans? Do the math. A 400 page book cannot be comprehensively captured on film in less than two hours. Something is going to be left out! Done. Settled.
Terrific young actor Brenton Thwaites is Jonas, who as a young man (slightly older than the book’s 12 year old hero) is chosen to be a “Receiver of Memories,” a significant honor in a community that tightly controls its citizenry. The governing body does not allow kissing or lying or even anything resembling sarcasm. Sure it’s harmonious, but the thrill of life has been systematically and, through mandatory drug injections, synthetically extracted from the apparently willing populace.
But when Jonas goes to fulfill his responsibility to learn about history by visiting the outgoing memory manager, a scruffy sage known as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges), his wisdom increases commensurate with a growing distrust of the elders who value obedience and control over feeling and the possibility of failure. Jonas decides to travel beyond the community’s forbidden borders. Predictably, the one he wants to save the most is his childhood pal and current object of affection Fiona (Odeya Rush). For all its philosophic and cautionary sub-texts, “The Giver” is a gentle charmer at heart.
Director Phillip Noyce (whose resume includes some Tom Clancy adaptations as well as two smaller, spectacular films “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” and “Dead Calm”) uses a striking visual approach to depict Jonas’s changing perception of the world by adding touches of color.
Rounding out the strong cast are Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and a certain pop megastar who has a cameo as “The Giver’s” daughter.
“The Giver” sits nicely and refreshingly between the high drama of “The Hunger Games” series and the melodrama of the “Twilight” series.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material.