Roughly 15 minutes into the film I turned to the person with me and said “Boy, is this ever like Divergent”. The similarities between the two were striking. They are both stories set in the future where the world is operating completely differently, center on teenagers, have an Oscar winner as the intimidating leader, and have a ceremony in which jobs or group alliances are selected for the teens. Both are based on popular novels for young adults with this one using a Lois Lowry novel as its source material. After a certain point these dystopia films all begin to run into one another because they are so similar. Is it too much to ask for new ideas?
Sometime in the future a section of the world has been transformed into a seemingly perfect society with no anger, competition, hate, crime or dissatisfaction. Things like animals, bad weather, love, and a collective memory of any kind has also been wiped out. All citizens seem happy. To ensure everything runs smoothly each person has to take a daily dose of medication that enables all this to happen.
As a child grows to their teenage years they take part in a ceremony where the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep – Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada) announces their selected job. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites – Maleficent) is assigned the task of becoming the Receiver of Memory. To undertake this he will be trained by The Giver (Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski, Iron Man), who will transform all of human history and memories to Jonas.
As is expected, everything Jonas learns about war, love, dance, and sledding changes him forever. Once he realizes there is more to live and things to feel for the first time, Jonas begins to avoid taking his medication each day. He is forced into action when the child his family unit has been raising is scheduled to be released into Elsewhere (killed).
When similar films aimed at the same age category come out first and do well you can’t expect the success to go on forever, so I fear that The Giver will be lost in the shuffle. Not that it deserves a better fate as it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The attempt at being edgy by filming some in black and white I’m sure is lost on most of the audience along with the anti-medication slant.
The acting is rather uneven with Meryl Streep being….well, Meryl Streep. Meaning that she could read a phone book and make it interesting. Another veteran actor does not come out of this smelling like roses. Jeff Bridges performance as The Giver is so stylized and mumbly that I could not make heads or tails of it. Not sure what he was trying to do. The younger actors are all decent with some minor missteps.
Where the film totally loses momentum is in its attempt to be a thriller. The story is so predictable that any tension is whitewashed out of it sorta like the all colour is eliminated from the beginning of the film. Part of the blame has to be laid at the feat of director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Patriot Games), who seems to think he is making an action adventure film and forgets about all the delicacy of the message of the film. He has lost some of the magic in the story in the transfer from page to big screen.
Instead it should have made us think about the world we live in. Realize that even though it is not perfect that the “messiness” of love and other emotion is an essential part of being human. And that we should not take it all for granted and thing that the grass is greener on the other side.