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The Weinstein Company // PG-13 // August 15, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
The YA (young adult) book-to-film adaptations have become huge in cinema. Films such as The Hunger Games and Divergent have proven that such stories that involve one maturing in a futuristic dystopia can be quite intriguing. Before either of those books were even a thought, The Giver was a well-known book. Perhaps this is one of the inspirations for the novels that were to come. However, it has taken the filmmakers quite a long time to bring this adaptation to the silver screen. My primary concern going in was whether or not it would feel like more of the same, given that all of these more recent stories have been translated into film for years. Even with a capable cast, director Phillip Noyce's The Giver doesn't quite hit its mark.
In a futuristic society, the community appears to be perfect. War doesn't exist, neither do pain or suffering. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) strives for sameness in every individual, regardless of his or her duty to society. It's now time for Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) to reach adulthood and fulfill the most important task that this society has to offer. He must work with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) and learn of the pain and pleasure of the "real" world in order to provide guidance. But what secrets are the cost of this seemingly perfect community?
Audiences are placed directly into this society, as Jonas expresses his anxieties about the upcoming ceremony that will deliver the job that he must fulfill for the rest of his days. Watching this community interact is quite amusing, as we're looking at a completely different culture that holds a different set of morals and taboos. Writer Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide never take it too seriously, as they incorporate some chuckles in the first act regarding some customs that our modern society would find odd. This is perhaps one of the picture's strongest assets, as it really focuses on involving its audiences into the world of the protagonist, and how he relates to it. Many of these stories fail to show the ordinary lives of our lead, as they generally strive to get right into the more grand concepts. However, this provides us with a stronger understanding of who our protagonist is. Once we're introduced to a few aspects of this society, Mitnick and Weide shift the focus onto Jonas' new responsibilities.
From this moment on, the remainder of the film attempts to tap into more philosophical roots. Why would a society want to promote "sameness" and hide what many consider to be essential to humanity? While such a question is most certainly worth exploring in cinema, The Giver never manages to truly push the envelope. Rather, it feels like a superficial discussion of what it means to be human. Perhaps if Mitnick and Weide explored this in a more authentic way, it would have proven to be an ever-intriguing look into what is really humanity actually means. Unfortunately, it decides to abandon this concept and pick it back up several times, making it a disconnected idea that never feels entirely realized. Rather, it tries to explore concepts that merely scratch the surface, as we're transported into the past within Jonas' mind in order for him to learn more about the world and what it has to offer. However, the filmmakers don't do anything with this material, as a very small amount of it will resonate with viewers. Simply, it's never as philosophical as it strives to be.
The third act lends itself to some action, as Jonas begins to fight against the system. Even though we're told that those in the community don't know any better, The Giver makes nearly everybody an antagonist. This proves to be a difficult idea to get behind as the film continues to move forward. While the Chief Elder is clearly the leader of this community, we're never entirely invested in the stakes that the film offers. Instead, the more personal moments between Jonas and his true love, Fiona (Odeya Rush), have more of an effect on us. These are perhaps the more authentic moments that the film has to offer, although it abandons that for a cat-and-mouse game that hardly feels like a climax. By the time that the film is about to come to a close, we're left with a disappointing conclusion that believes that it's a lot more than it actually is. While a discussion between the Chief Elder and The Giver clearly has some power, it still feels muddled behind a barrier that the feature never quite allows us to pass through.
The Giver sports an impressive cast on its poster, which will surely bring in some audiences atypical to the usual YA adaptation. Brenton Thwaites is most certainly proving to be quite the talent in the role of Jonas. He has a sense of discovery that flows through the picture very naturally. Even though the film doesn't provide him with much time with Fiona (played by Odeya Rush), the two prove to have a fair amount of chemistry on screen. Jeff Bridges is convincing as The Giver, especially as we continue to learn more about his past. No other character in this film manages to reach a similar level of depth. Meryl Streep has an extremely limited amount of screen time and material, although she sells the role quite well. Katie Holmes is acceptable as Jonas' Mother, even though some audiences are sure to give her grief, simply because she's Katie Holmes. Alexander Skarsgård is similarly suitable as Jonas' Father, even though he has an even more limited amount of emotion than Mother. The truly questionable casting choice here is that of Taylor Swift as Rosemary. Fortunately, this is an extremely small role, although she still proves to be a distraction that pulls us out of the film. Audiences will simply see her as Taylor Swift, rather than Rosemary. Otherwise, the casting is quite impressive.
Director Phillip Noyce tries to say a lot with his use of visual storytelling. The majority of it proves to be quite "on the nose," but it's always good when filmmakers divert from the generic look of the majority of pictures. The Giver is primarily presented in black-and-white, displaying the emotionless state of the society. Unfortunately, Noyce never truly utilizes the black-and-white style. The picture remains quite soft, and the shadows are never taken advantage of. However, once Jonas is shown the past, his perspective is displayed with color. This is where Noyce succeeds, as he brings about some intriguing camera work within a well-constructured environment.
The Giver is an example of a film that loses its way. The first act is a highly intriguing look at a society very different from our own. We get the opportunity to explore a community and a young love in which our lead knows nothing about. However, the feature strives to be philosophical, yet it barely scratches the surface of what it means to be human. One of the only highlights to be found after the first act is The Giver's tragic past, which makes for one of the film's only characters that we can sympathize with. Once the film turns into a cat-and-mouse game, it never truly manages to recover. The Giver is a superficial look at humanity that never feels entirely realized. Rent it.