Streep, Bridges Unable To Save "The Giver"

The film version of “The Giver” – adapted from Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel – is decades late to its own party, a problem strung out by its sheepish retracing of the same trail it helped blaze. In the shadow of young adult box office behemoths like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” – films that necessarily carved out niches for themselves – “The Giver” plays like a fifth-generation copy of itself. It’s an experience not unlike downloading a once trendy pop song on iTunes, only to discover it’s been feebly re-recorded by the original artist, long separated from the rights to the original recording.

Since Lowry’s book played a significant role in setting the young adult dystopia template, the film’s familiarity shouldn’t be held against it. Leave that to its tedious pacing, lack of imagination, bland visuals, listless performances, and ability to vacuum seal out all intentional humor. The most entertaining thing about “The Giver” is its conspicuously awful ADR (automated dialogue replacement) work, with entire scenes obviously – and poorly – dubbed in post-production.

Brenton Thwaites (“Oculus”) stars as Jonas, a teen destined to flip his utopian-turned-dystopian society upside down. He occupies a space free of color, music, love, and expression – the price of eliminating war and famine – a world that puts an emphasis on sameness and obedience. Jonas’ mother (Katie Holmes) and father (Alexander Skarsgard) are militant in their assimilation and dedication to their leader, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). The titular Giver (Jeff Bridges), the lone tie to humanity’s past, is kept away from the masses, serving as the memory bank for deposits of human emotion.

When Jonas is tasked with replacing the Giver, he becomes consumed by feelings he’s never known, his world taking on color and energy and emotion. Beginning the story in black and white and transitioning to color wasn’t even a novel trick in the book, having been done most notably on screen in “The Wizard Of Oz” and then in Gary Ross’ 1996 film, “Pleasantville” (interestingly, Ross would go on to direct the first “Hunger Games film). But, the cloud of unoriginality surrounding “The Giver” – fair or not – is the least of its problems.

Ineptitude comes in many forms, but leveling the playing field between Meryl Streep (acting legend) and Katie Holmes (not an acting legend) requires a special kind of futility. Both actresses are somehow equally ineffectual here, with Jeff Bridges’ performance playing like a compendium of sulking reaction shots of the actor being told he’s set to appear in a 2014 movie version of “The Giver.” Thwaites and co-lead Odeya Rush – as Fiona, Jonas’ love interest – are in over their heads, while pop star Taylor Swift makes for an uninteresting distraction in a brief cameo. Every moment of each performance is as tedious as the last, ultimately snowballing into a body of apathy.

Director Philip Noyce (“Salt”) – a competent filmmaker that routinely struggles with personality in his films – is an impossibly bad fit for the material, getting nothing but static from his A-list supporting cast. Combined with a pair of screenwriters (Michael Mitnik, Robert Weide) who make no attempt to spice up the story, “The Giver” makes for a hopelessly dull, flavorless 100 minutes, sure to please no one but those like the film’s inhabitants – folks who’ve never seen a movie before.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 15, 2014
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenwriter: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Taylor Swift
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence)