The cast is truly the thing in Phillip Noyce's adaptation of Lois Lowry's YA novel "The Giver," a Newbery Medal winning novel from 1994 that has received more than its share of acclaim and disdain as it has also been banned by more than a few school districts allegedly due to its inappropriate content.
The Giver as a film has been a long desired project by Jeff Bridges, who'd originally envisioned his late father in the lead role but who has now assumed that role himself. The story centers around a dystopic society borne out of what is known as the Ruin, an unexplained event that led to the development of bland yet peaceful Communities where people live receiving a daily injection that removes their emotions and having had all memories of their past erased. If this sounds familiar in some ways to other recent films, think Hunger Games, Divergent, and Never Let Me Go, that's because it is quite similar. While Lowry's novel had the benefit of having come out significantly earlier than most of those books, this film has the curse of following all of those films and lacking anything, other than its Oscar-winning cast, that really distinguishes it from the crowd.
While largely faithful to the essence of the book, which this critic has read, as a film The Giver has certainly taken more than a bit of dramatic license and has, more than a little bit, toned down the story in order to fit nicely within the framework of a PG-13 rating. Sadly, the film does share with the novel an ending that is a little less than satisfying and a bit of a letdown. Director Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Quiet American) faced quite the challenge in bringing to the big screen a young adult novel that is far meatier and more substantial, and some would say far darker, than a good majority of the young adult novels written even today. The film also requires, moreso than the novel, a suspension of logic and believe and a willingness to simply go with it.
If you can't do that, then there's a good chance you simply won't appreciate the film at all.
If you can, however, suspend your belief and simply surrender to everything that's going on then you'll likely be rewarded with what is certainly the best acted and most visually arresting of the recent YA novel-based cinematic ventures. The film opens with Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), Fiona (Odeya Rush, and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) as three friends preparing to be assigned the tasks that will define their adult lives within this society that they live. The ceremony is a grand affair overseen by a hologram of the society's Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), and it is at this ceremony that Jonas is chosen as the society's new receiver, essentially the one member of society who is the keeper of all memories. In order to receive this position, he must be properly prepared by The Giver (Bridges), whose training exists of both the practical and philosophical aspects of the responsibility. The more that Jonas is prepared, the more he begins to doubt the wisdom of the ways of this society and he begins to believe that emotions actually enrich life despite the rejection of this thought by The First Elder, also his mother (Katie Holmes), and his father (Alexander Skarsgard).
For those knowledgeable cineastes, it would be difficult to watch The Giver without contemplating Pleasantville in that both films display a rather remarkable and vital use of color and black-and-white within their lensing. D.P. Ross Emery's lensing begins as a finely hued black-and-white yet makes subtle shifts along with the shifts that Jonas experiences. Marco Beltrami's original score also leaves a positive impact.
The cast is uniformly strong here and there's no question that having such a strong cast enhances the film's resonance even through its moments of unrelenting ambiguity. The ending, while understandable, feels almost lazy when compared to the complex thought and layered presentation that has preceded it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic