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THE GIVER (review)

giver_ver9THE GIVER
Written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Welde
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Odeya Rush

Jonas: If you can’t feel, what’s the point?! 

Before there was THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, or NEVER LET ME GO, there was THE GIVER. Lois Lowry’s 1993 bestselling novel was that flawless merge of ‘Brave New World’ and Orwell’s ‘1984’, yet still easily accessible for younger readers. It rapidly became requisite reading in schools across North America and even banned in countless others. When Jeff Bridges optioned the film rights to the book in 1995, in the hopes of directing his father Lloyd in the lead role, the material was ahead of its time. Decades later, Bridges’ passion project has finally come into fruition, except now the material is as dull as the black and white world its characters inhabit. 

Set in a dystopian futuristic society, the population of the unnamed confined locale abide by a strict set of rules (quite alike the satirical rules in THE LEGO MOVIE, it must be noted). Due to an injection they inflict every morning, they have no emotions, free will, or memories. They dress alike, live in a tepid climate year-round, and see everything in black and white (literally and metaphorically). Once the community members become eighteen years old, they are informed, in a ceremony by the community elders, what their predetermined careers will be. Thus, earnest and sweet Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is heralded as the Receiver, a very rare, secretive assignment. At the very edge of their society’s fringes, he meets daily with the Giver (Bridges), who imparts on him all of the world’s pre-dystopic memories. Beginning with the sense of snow and the thrilling sensation of riding a sled, to the awareness of animals, childbirth, and even dancing at a wedding, Jonas’ mind is swiftly opened to a brand new world. His insatiable thirst for more of the world’s memories forces the Giver to transmit to him the harsh cruelties of both the past (including the Vietnam War) as well as his present (including how population control is manipulated in their community). Anguished and torn with what he has envisioned, Jonas concocts a plan with his sensei to unleash the memories (and, in turn, emotions) on the rest of the deprived populace. 

The key problem with THE GIVER is that audiences have now seen it all before. The daily suppressing injections in NEVER LET ME GO, a confined society where roles are set in DIVERGENT, and even a grizzled elder imparting his worldly memories in the HARRY POTTER series – these all easily spring to mind while viewing this film. Not to mention that director, Phillip Noyce (SALT, THE QUIET AMERICAN), in an incredibly lazy display of filmmaking, plunks in clips from the awe-inspiring BARAKA and SAMSARA documentaries as the memories shown to Jonas. The uneven acting talent in the ensemble is also to blame for the film’s quality. Meryl Streep, playing the ironclad Chief Elder, is well cast and it is easy to see why writers Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Welde have largely embellished her character’s single scene appearance in the source material. Producer and lead actor, Bridges is in fine form as well but the same can’t be said of the rest of the cast, especially the young leads. Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, and particularly the beautiful Odeya Rush are noticeably miscast. Their wooden expressions serve them well when their characters are meant to have no emotion but later in the film, they never depart from their leaden demeanours. And for those viewing the film in the hopes of seeing the winsome chanteuse Taylor Swift, you too will be disappointed, as Ms. Swift only briefly appears. 

Had THE GIVER been released in the ’90s, I strongly feel that it would have been a family favourite, as its story was remarkably ahead of its time. As it stands, it will barely be a blip in anyone’s memory.

2.5 sheep

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