The Giver doesn’t deliver

by Mark Burger

It has taken 20 years to bring Lois Lowry’s award-winning fantasy best-seller to the screen, but despite some heavyhitting talent (including Meryl Streep and executive producer Jeff Bridges), The Giver comes up very short.

Set in an indeterminate future, the Story takes place after the Ruin has taken place, leaving the Earth divided into different Communities. Emotion has been suppressed and memories erased, but the Chief Elder (Streep) assigns a teenager to succeed the Giver (Bridges), the only one permitted by this Totalitarian society to possess memories.

The Boy is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), newly chosen as the Giver’s successor. The Girl is Fiona (Odeya Rush). The Friend is Asher (Cameron Monaghan). The Parents of Jonas are played by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard, appearing rather young to have a teenaged son.

The Giver is clearly aiming for the teen/young adult audience, but for every success like Twilight (financially if not artistically) and The Hunger Games, there have been those would-be franchises that have stumbled at the starting gate, such as Ender’s Game and The Host.

Likewise, director Phillip Noyce has made some terrific films (Newsfront, The Quiet American, Dead Calm) and some real disappointments (Sliver, Salt, The Bone Collector), yet he’s usually displayed a surer hand for action than he does here. Those scenes in The Giver are frenetic and, worse, uninteresting. With Fiona’s life hanging in the balance and Jonas on the run, the film plods along to a pre-ordained conclusion, with everything instantaneously (and unbelievably) put right.

The performances are pallid, with Streep relegated to a onenote (and never particularly threatening) villain and Bridges bringing gruff touches to his role. Taylor Swift, whose prominent billing may entice some ticket-buyers, has only a few scenes and her character is presented as a transparent hologram. (Insert your own Taylor Swift joke, perhaps.)

The Giver essentially tells a self-contained story, although a continuation would not be impossible. If this is any indication, however, one is enough. This is a sterile, monotonous movie about a sterile, monotonous society. Perhaps that was the intent, but it’s hardly conducive to entertainment.