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The Giver - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Giver
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

There's something curiously absorbing about The Giver, in a way that makes one feel there must be something deceptive about its simplicity. There's an uneasiness about the stripped-down world it presents, in which "sameness" is lauded, and every citizen gets daily injections to eradicate emotions and even deny the ability to see in color.

Based on a spare 1993 novel of the same name by Lois Lowry, director Philip Noyce (Salt) "fleshes out" the story for the film by amping up the science fiction aspects. The novel was also by definition science fiction, but presented that aspect of it almost as a footnote; it was thoroughly focused on Jonas, the preteen at the center of the story.

As always, the question regarding a movie adaptation of a novel is not so much whether the movie does justice to the source material, but whether it works on its own merits. How does it play to audiences who have never heard of the book? Probably not particularly well, to be honest. Cinematically, with its gradual transition from black and white to color as the characters discover ideas outside the only world they know, Pleasantville (1998) did a far better job, making a greater impact with its depth. The Giver is comparatively forgettable.

But I would be remiss if I didn't say that The Giver is still, broadly, true to the spirit of the book -- even though, much to fans of the book's disappointment, Jonas is not a preteen in the film but rather about to turn 18 -- played by Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, who is actually in his mid-twenties. This turns out to be not so bad a disappointment after all, and not just because he's strikingly handsome. The truth is, it's a lot easier to find an older actor who can convey the nuance of innocence lost than it is to find an 11-year-old who can.

That's not to say that much of The Giver is plausible, mind you, but so what? This is a post-apocalyptic (or post-"The Ruin," anyway, as that's all that gets referred to) dystopian community in which the controlled population has no understanding of the horrors they perpetuate, and as Jonas is awakened to them, Thwaites in particular draws you in. Then we get Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, wonderful as always, and Jeff Bridges as the title character, compelling in spite of something weird going on with his jaw while he speaks. Is he pulling a Marlon Brando or what?

Anyway, Jonas is selected as "Receiver of Memories" at the graduation ceremony. Bridges is the guy who gives the memories to him -- hence the title -- so that he'll be the one person in the community with memory of all the things in the world everyone else in the community is not allowed to know. This is meant to give him wisdom so he can ultimately advise the elders, but of course Jonas has to go and shake things up when he decide there's no point in emotionless existence.

Eventually it moves into pretty typical movie beats, with a race against time to save everyone (in this case, from themselves), and here The Giver goes off the rails a little. Until then, the dialogue is almost soothing in its crispness (a lot is made of "clarity of language"), and actually manages to be relatively thought provoking. And then we get chase scenes in which Jonas is carrying a baby he's trying to save as he's running -- or riding a motorcycle, or at one point literally being dropped into a river -- and that's just plain weird.

The Giver is not being very well received critically, and if not for the ending, which I would call "blah" at best, I might say it's being unfairly underrated. It's not great, but it's easy to enjoy, in spite its flaws. It presents a universe that is interesting to look around in, and has an interesting take on the perils of self-repression. The acting is decent, with a measured delivery that fits the story well. And unlike most movies adapted from beloved novels, fans of the book are actually more likely to enjoy the movie than newcomers to this story, arguably because of rather than in spite of the changes that were made. I was a fan of the book, anyway, and I enjoyed this movie, at least until the clunky ending.

Jeff Bridges and Brenton Thwaites exchange memories in THE GIVER.

Overall: B
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