The Giver is the latest novel plucked from the young-adult section of the bookshop and rushed through a studio system to result in a healthy return on investment. Recently The Hunger Games series and the standalone The Fault In Our Stars have done a tremendous job in transforming the loved novels into fitting entertainment and mountains of cash while Divergent and If I Stay have fallen flat, perceived as gimmicky and formulaic in a crowded genre.
Starring Brenton Thwaites, an Australian Home and Away alum making waves stateside, it certainly appears to be lingering into familiar territory. A terrific supporting cast thankfully circumvent cliché. Jeff Bridges, passionate advocate for the film’s creation, initially envisaged his father as the titular Giver before taking the role himself, repenting himself for the abhorrent R.I.P.D. Meryl Streep’s regular slamdunk performance injects the necessary seriousness to graduate from an everyday flick into more. Her presence is noteworthy. Unlike Divergent’s Kate Winslet or Guardians of the Galaxy’s Glenn Close, Streep’s character moves organically inside the story and impacts the plot. True Blood’s Alexander Skasgard and Batman Begins Katie Holmes round out the adult cast to minimal effect, wasting potential.
The young cast are just that – young. Thwaites is a wildcard choice and handles his scenes with veteran actors formidably. The dynamic between himself and Bridges create some touching moments. His lovesick moments were also on par, luring his flame out of the widely accepted clinical and institutionalised regime. The actress behind her, Odeya Rush, did a less thrilling but still passable job. The performance bagged her a Teen Choice Award, and although the contest is wildly criticised for being rigged, it’s still a sweet notch on her belt before she costars alongside Jack Black for Goosebumps.
Cameron Monoghan didn’t act particularly awfully however his character Asher was unmemorable, confusingly zigzagging the frenemy line to an uninspiring and anticlimactic plot moment. At times he was a best friend, a concerned neighbour, a larrikin or a military man. Days later it’s not certain whether the three formed a really terrible love triangle or not. It would have been a kinder to take a leaf out of The Fault In Our Stars and their character Kaitlyn who was an important beat of the novel but unmissed omission from the film.
lot of these faults can be attributed to a hamfisted script.
The plot, painstakingly determined twenty years ago and printed in black and white, is a gradual realisation of the dubious societal environment that encompasses the world around the protagonist and the slow-burning resistance and eventual outright confrontation. There are some distinctive parallels that inspire empathy and highlight two completely different but ultimately distressing issues in the world today in the mass collection of information from massive corporations such as Facebook, Google and Apple, and the new sickening ways that terrorist organisations are operating inside the film. The Giver sees the human side of things and makes it easy to empathise with both sides, before ultimately dictating that Meryl Streep and her cronies are severely misguided. The way the story moves and shifts is always deliberate and concise which is odd for a movie released in September.
It’s the details of the script that irk me. The phrasing and language indicate the carelessness of an overnight romantic comedy or low-budget frat piece. It’s brash, abrasive and the key weakness of the film. To remedy the woeful dialogue would raise this to a movie worthy of a June release.
On the other hand the aesthetic is phenomenal. The film begins in monotone and adds saturation and colour splashes as the protagonist becomes more educated, then cuts to black and white to depict a scene without the hero. As the film progresses the separation becomes more and more apparent, most so in the climax, where the protagonist is surrounded by elaborate panorama and the supporting cast are in abstract claustrophobic scenes reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest.
It’s a neat trick to keep the audience engaged.
The set pieces also look a million dollars, particularly the Giver’s home and study area. As is unfortunately not the case with so many book adaptations, the film innovated specific pieces of furniture to make it as close to a novel’s illustration. It is another of the film’s core strengths and raises it from a home release popcorn flick to something worth a journey to the theatres.
The Giver is not your generic young-adult adaptation. It’s a faithful representation with cool styling, a solid lead in Brenton Thwaites and some top notch supporting moments from Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. The script is careless and detracts from the enjoyment of the entire film however the plot is solid and there are far worse things on at the local cinema.
Review by Mark Halyday