Review: THE GIVER (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 12 September 2014

Review: THE GIVER (2014)

2 stars
2 stars
For all the so-called thought-provoking themes about what it's like to be human with feelings, THE GIVER fails to scratch beyond its surface value in this shockingly lame YA adaptation.

Long before novelists like Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth responsible for popularizing the YA dystopian stories with THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT book series, there is a book called THE GIVER which was written by Lois Lowry way back in 1993. This particular award-winning book was originally optioned by Jeff Bridges in 1995 and intended for his late father Lloyd Bridges to play the title role but it surprisingly took nearly 20 years for the big screen adaptation to get materialized. And now that the long-gestating project of THE GIVER has finally sees the light of its day in the cinema, I bet a lot of people are wondering what is the big fuss about this movie anyway? At the beginning, I was kind of curious to see a YA project like THE GIVER managed to entice (apart from Jeff Bridges) notable veteran talents like Meryl Streep and director Phillip Noyce (PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, SALT) to make the movie. Unfortunately, THE GIVER feels too hollow and surprisingly lack of cinematic flair to turn this into a worthy YA adaptation.


Set in the futuristic utopian society where everyone live peacefully together in a conflict-free environment and must follow on a specified list of rules including using precise language, obey curfews, never lie, take their daily injections and never question the authority. Everything seems to be in a perfect order and every year, all the elderly workers will be retired to a heaven of sorts called Elsewhere and fresh graduates will bid farewell to their childhood as they get ready to be specifically assigned with different job roles by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). During the ceremony, best friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) are assigned with their respective roles but unfortunately, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is given a rare opportunity to take an all-important role as the Receiver of Memory. Jonas' job is to report to the Giver (Jeff Bridges) for training everyday where they will sit close together while the Giver transmits all of the memories about the secret history of the planet by touching his arms. As Jonas learns more about the newfound knowledge that no one else has ever experienced before, he soon realizes that he must break free from the mundane and orderly life he has been told to do all this while.

Taken from 1998's PLEASANTVILLE as a main source of visual inspiration, the movie begins promisingly with director Phillip Noyce introduces a monochromatic society as he brilliantly uses black-and-white to represent class equality that abolished human differences such as ideology, feeling, race and religion. For the first 20 minutes, it's kind of intriguing to watch something different than your average YA adaptation. And thanks also to Ross Emery's mesmerizing cinematography and Ed Verreux's groovy production design, THE GIVER is certainly a technical triumph that when a burst of colour finally made way to the screen, it feels somewhat lively and intoxicating.

After proven his worth playing a dramatic leading role in the recent sci-fi picture called THE SIGNAL, Australian actor Brenton Thwaites continues to impress with his wonderfully sympathetic performance as Jonas. As Jonas' love interest Fiona, Israeli newcomer Odeya Rush is certainly photogenic enough with her passionate-looking appearance. Katie Holmes looks appropriately creepy playing a repressive Stepford wife-like character as Jonas' mother. As two veteran casts in the movie, Jeff Bridges displays a perfectly subdued performance as a seen-it-all elderly Giver while Meryl Streep brings a distinctive level of calm demeanour and cold-hearted mannerism in her commanding performance as Chief Elder. 

The oddly mesmerizing and wonderful scene where Jonas and Fiona are having fun sliding down the long staircase like sleds with a couple of makeshift trays.

Despite clocking at a reasonable 97 minutes, the pacing feels slack and lack of dramatic impact even when the climactic moment starts to set in. But the biggest problem here is Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide's flaccid adapted screenplay that doesn't seems daring enough to turn all the thought-provoking themes into something worthy of a debate. While it's understandable that this movie is aimed squarely for the young-adult generation, dumbing down the would-be plot complexity feels as if the filmmakers are insulting the audiences' intelligence. Because of that, all the supposedly compelling themes such as the meaning of love, fear and freedom comes across as simple-minded as they get. If that's not insulting enough, Noyce seems to be clueless on staging some of the action-oriented moments (especially the one involved a lame motorcycle chase) that barely raises a pulse. For a veteran action director like Noyce, he can certainly do better than that.
Not all acting are deemed worthwhile here, as Cameron Monaghan looks kind of lost playing one of Jonas' best friends while country singer Taylor Swift delivers a thankless performance in her cameo appearance as the previous ill-fated Receiver of Memory Rosemary.


As far as a YA adaptation goes, THE GIVER certainly ranks as one of the worst kinds in the genre. It's a terrible shame, though especially with all the distinctive talents involved that could have made the movie better than it looks.

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