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The Giver

The Giver

The Giver has been a Young Adult
best-seller for more than twenty years, but the film adaptation reminds us why
some ideas are best explored in the medium for which they were created. Reading
the book, a young reader could readily imagine what it must be like to live in
a future world devoid of emotions: a community where sameness is celebrated and
everything is seen in black and white. Literalized on screen, the story seems contrived
and familiar, while the hero is colorless—pun intended.

I suppose it
wouldn’t make sense to have a highly charismatic actor in the role when
everyone in this future society is supposed to be docile, even dull. (A daily
dose of meds makes certain that no one feels anything too deeply.) Aussie actor
Brenton Thwaites gives a capable enough performance but never manages to draw
us in—a crucial problem the movie never solves. The same can be said of the
actors who play his two best friends, Cameron Monaghan and Israeli newcomer
Odeya Rush. Their dilemma is clearly delineated, yet I felt myself at arm’s
length throughout the picture.

The only
actor who is allowed to dig into his role is Jeff Bridges, as the title
character (officially, the Receiver of Memory). He is charged with passing on his
unique knowledge of human history to his youthful successor, Thwaites:
everything that’s been wiped out of the collective consciousness, from
exhilaration and joy to human suffering. Bridges brings his professionalism  and passion to the part and earns our empathy.
(The actor has been trying to get this movie made for two decades, and is one
of the film’s producers.)

Meryl Streep gives a one-note performance as his superior, the Chief Elder of
the carefully controlled Community whose job is to maintain the status quo. Any
film in which Streep is unimpressive is notable, but not for the right reason.

Perhaps the
screenplay (credited to Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide), like the book,
reads better than it plays. Phillip Noyce is a solid director, but he hasn’t
found a way to imbue his film with the emotional resonance it demands. Sorry to
say, The Giver is a misfire.

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