Based on Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver tells the story of a seemingly perfect (and utterly controlled) world; there’s no war, pain, suffering, differences or choice. When a young man named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Occulus, Maleficent) is 18 years old, he’s chosen to be his community’s Receiver of Memories. He enters into training with an old man called The Giver (Jeff Bridges). From the Giver, Jonas learns about pain, sadness, war, and all the unhappy truths of the “real” world. He quickly realizes that his community is fake. Confronted with this reality, Jonas faces difficult choices about his own life and his future.
The first noticeable thing about The Giver is that it begins in black and white, with no immediate explanation. It does eventually become clear, but according to fans of the book, doing ‘this’ so soon into the movie removes the big surprise that they discovered when they read the novel. Explaining what happens would obviously venture into spoiler territory, but there certainly is a better way of getting the intended message across while maintaining an impact, something in which the film desperately needs.
For the best part of its opening hour, The Giver displays absolutely zero signs of any threat, which in turn means there’s no one to root for or against. It focuses heavily on explaining the story through dialogue, which isn’t all that interesting to begin with, and when the villain does make their presence known, there’s really no reason to care. Led by newcomer Brenton Thwaites, the cast is a mixed bunch of fresh faces and hardened veterans. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep give the film more class than it deserves and Bridges in particular puts his heart into the role, due to him originally owning the film rights to to book when it was first published. He even filmed a version of it with his family. Thwaites meanwhile, is forgettable as the Receiver. He possesses no charm or charisma, and compared to other male leads in Young Adult franchises, he’s definitely no poster boy. Taylor Swift makes a glorified cameo as a previous Receiver, but her appearance is so brief that it’s hard to know whether she was good or not.
There’s a few decent ideas floating around in the unoriginal plot, and the inhabitants justification for murder is something that should have been expanded, but for a story about rebelling against the expected norm, it’s hypocritically formulaic. It races towards an unsatisfactory conclusion too, with the ending feeling more like a formality rather than a definitive full stop.
When published in 1993, the book was ahead of its time. 21 years later, and with the superior Hunger Games still clinging onto the attention of teenagers, The Giver simply arrived too late to the game to get a good seat.