The Giver lacks follow-through
Starring Brenton Thwaites and Jeff Bridges. Rating unavailable.
Based on Lois Lowry’s popular YA novel of the same name, The Giver ages its heroes, but the tale’s still aimed at tweens musing on the philosophical aspects of having been born into one tribe or another on planet Earth.
Events orbit around young Jonas, played by bland-ish Australian Brenton Thwaites, late of Maleficent. He lives in a postapocalyptic oasis with all the rough edges, including colours, planed off its scientifically bred survivors. Disturbingly (especially for something shot in South Africa), they are 98 percent white, with no explanation except that “differences” are avoided. Children have been placed with family units, rather than parents, although Jonas—raised by soft Alexander Skarsgård and a Scientologically grim Katie Holmes—is very tight with best buds Asher and Fiona (Yank Cameron Monaghan and Israeli-born Odeya Rush). Both boys seem to like Fiona more than their drug-controlled impulses are supposed to allow.
When we meet them, the trio are getting assigned jobs by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep, holographing it in), and Jonas is surprised to be named the new Receiver: he’ll be trusted with ancient knowledge of the title character, played with annoyingly clenched jaws by Jeff Bridges, also a producer here. Images and feelings of the old, dangerous world well up inside Jonas, upsetting the order and people around him—as happened with the Receivers before him. Clearly, this is not a very workable system.
The initially monochromatic results recall Pleasantville, Fahrenheit 451, and A Handmaid’s Tale, with some Star Trek and Citizen Kane thrown in—plus Platoon, a little Koyaanisqatsi, and a side order of messianic implication. For older moviegoers, this grab bag’s pleasures are chiefly technical. Somewhat stiffly directed by Australia’s Philip Noyce (Patriot Games), the stylish effort’s real stars are Spike Lee’s frequent editor Barry Brown, cinematographer Ross Emery (The Wolverine), and production designer Ed Verreaux (Looper, plus various Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park pictures).
The score is a missed opportunity, however, since music and dancing are absent from this overly pacified reality. When Bridges’s character sits down at an ancient piano to illustrate the world of emotions-as-sound, you expect Beethoven or Chopin. Instead, monotonous, sub–Michael Nyman noodling emerges. And Taylor Swift shows up later to do much the same thing. The combination of powerful imagery with weak follow-through pretty much sums up the whole enterprise.