Is it possible to realize that everything you believed to be true was really a lie disguised as your reality? What happens when you learn the harsh truth of how the world really worked? Will you be able to accept it or fall apart from learning the information? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “The Giver,” which is based on the popular Lois Lowry book that many had to read when they were young. Sadly, the film adaptation didn’t live up to the world that the book discussed in great detail.
“The Giver” followed Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) was a young man who always saw the world differently than his friends or his family. He lived in a community where there no war, dispair or violence or any kind. The roles in the community were pretty well defined and were what people were chosen to be for the rest of their lives, unless they wanted to be released from their position. When Jonas was 18, he was chosen to be the new person who received all of the community’s memories: good and bad. In order to do that, he had to begin training with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) in order to see the world as it really was. Once he did, Jonas started to realize that his community was built on nothing but the lies of politicians looking to control everyone. The biggest culprit of this was the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) who ultimately decided who lived and who died. The Giver’s last trainee Rosemary (Taylor Swift) who only had a brief tenure with her mentor before she was asked to be released and never heard from again. While Jonas struggled with learning all of this new information, he was starting to realize that he developing feelings for his longtime friend Fiona (Odeya Rush) that could get them both into major trouble if anyone found out. Love wasn’t part of the community, or any human type of emotion for that matter. Jonas’ parents (Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard) never showed any type of affection toward him and discussing your feelings was never subject at the dinner table. While Jonas started to realize that his newfound knowledge could get him killed, he decided to make the ultimate choice by escaping and finding a way to unlock the truth for the entire community. Will Jonas be able to escape the home he once loved and knew for an uncertain future?
In terms of questions, the film managed to give viewers a broad strokes approach to the world that the book developed for readers, but it also felt like a lot of material was left on the cutting room floor due to the film’s rather rapid pace. The movie often felt too rushed in order to truly tell the story to viewers and also explain what motivated the characters to committing such questionable actions. Sure, the movie managed to capture the tone of the book, but it would’ve been nice to see how Jonas evolved from a naive boy into a brave young man who wanted to change his world for the better. A few well placed flashbacks of material that was in the book could’ve helped put things into greater perspective for viewers. In the end, the film’s chief storylines involved Jonas’ relationships with The Giver, Fiona and the Chief Elder. Unfortunately, the film’s short running time didn’t give the leads the chance to develop their characters’ on-screen relationships a lot further than what was truly on the page. Sure, Rush’ Fiona did have chemistry with Thwaites’ Jonas, but viewers were only given a few scenes of innocent flirtation and a few kisses before they were separated for what could be forever. Even though Streep’s Chief Elder had a large presence in the film, her role was truly a brief one in the book. The film expanded upon this by making Streep’s character the true face of the community’s evil doings. She made her supporting role a memorable one by often going beyond the material and imposing a stern presence that would make even the toughest men shudder. The movie’s main relationship that carried the film was Thwaites’ Jonas and Bridges’ The Giver who seemed to have a lot more in common than their selected occupation in life. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t developed beyond that.
As for breakout performances, Thwaites, Bridges and Streep led the pack for various different reasons. Thwaites designed his version of Jonas to be a curious young man who often let his wide eyed sense of adventure often get the best of him. He might appear to be the on-screen version of just another pretty face, but he managed to provide Jonas with a subtext of hidden sadness that only a few would notice. Jonas was eager to learn about the world, but it changed his outlook on life for better or worse. He had a comfortable rapport with both Bridges and Streep that allowed Jonas to bounce ideas off of, or even spar with when necessary. It’s just a shame that he didn’t get much of a chance to develop Jonas’ personal relationships as well to up the storytelling stakes a little more, but he did have the makings of some chemistry with Rush that was often swept to the side for the main story at large. Bridges’ Giver was a man who was aged by what he knew and suffered for the people that he lost along the way. He often expressed The Giver’s sadness without having to say very much and portrayed him as a rebel who didn’t believe in following the rules whenever necessary. Bridges had a strong rapport with Streep as they appeared to be cordial on-screen with a lace of malice that lurked just beneath the surface ready to come out at a moment’s notice. It just would’ve been nice for Bridges’ character to have had the chance to tell Streep’s Chief Elder what he truly thought about her without worrying of consequences. Streep, on the other hand, had the challenging task of what making the most of a rather limited role as a stereotypical politician who was corrupted by their own sense of power. She could even make the simplest of dialogue seem utterly creepy. The only disappointment was that Streep wasn’t allowed to do more than sneer, plot and remind everyone what the rules were. Let’s hope that Streep’s next villainess role will give more of a chance to shine.
Verdict: The cast delivered some interesting performances, but the film’s familiar story didn’t translate well on-screen and it often felt like the film was rushing to get to the ending instead of telling the story.
DVD Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)