Directed by Phillip Noyce and based on the children’s dystopian future book by Lois Lowry, “The Giver” is set in a society where everything is the same. No one is better than anyone else, no one questions anything, and there’s no such thing as choice. All emotion, including love, has been eliminated, and The Elders (the government) have wiped away all memories. In other words, it sounds like your typical dystopian world.
To emphasize this sameness however, Noyce and cinematographer Ross Emery have shot the movie partially in black-and-white. Only when our young hero Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) bites into the apple of knowledge and experiences all things characteristic of a normal person does the movie slowly gain color.
As gimmicky as this sounds, the visual choice works. The black-and-white photography gives the early scenes a slightly eerie look, and the transition from black-and-white to color makes the movie at least somewhat distinctive from other dystopian-future movies.
Unfortunately, that’s really the only distinct thing about “The Giver”: a bloodless, emotionless and heavy-handed picture full of lifeless characters.
The movie gets off to a bad start with a voiceover narration by Jonas that neatly sets up the world for the viewer and continues throughout the picture to make the plot points and thematic points even clearer than they are. “The Giver” is another example of a movie that does more telling than showing.
On the day of his transition from boyhood to adulthood, Jonas gets selected to be a receiver, who receives all of the memories and emotions from the past. When one gets to be old enough, The Elders select a profession based on your personality: Some are chosen as birth givers, while some are chosen to be caregivers or drone pilots. Every so often, someone is selected to be receiver.
Jonas meets with the old man known as The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who has lots of knowledge and transfers that knowledge to Jonas via his mind. Once Jonas experiences what it’s like to have human emotions and actions, he realizes that the society’s whole way of life is all wrong. Naturally, this upsets the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep, collecting a paycheck).
At 94 minutes, “The Giver” is surprisingly brief. It feels like Noyce is trying to get through the material as fast as he can. Just about every scene is in service to the plot, instead of character development. And the scenes that are relatively interesting — the “giving” sessions between Giver and Jonas — aren’t given enough time to breathe.
The picture sets up a world that it doesn’t want to explore, and the rules of the world are confusing.
Bridges manages to give a witty and sincere performance, despite all the other characters being bloodless, including our hero, Jonas, who somehow remains robotic and cold, even when he’s experiencing human qualities. And the only reason he manages to make even a small impression is because the supporting characters are virtually nonexistent.
For being a dystopian-future movie, “The Giver” lacks tension and thrills. Noyce tries to focus more on the ideas than action, but unfortunately, not much insight is revealed.
“The Giver” is by no means a brainless movie, but any interesting ideas it has are undone by an utterly boring execution.