[ Director: Philip Noyce; Screenwriters: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide; Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Helen Mirren, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan; Running time: 97 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
The Giver, adapted from Lois Lowry’s novel of the same name, has been oddly anonymous in terms of marketing. Considering the subject matter; a Hunger Games/Divergent-esque utopian yet dystopian future where one special teenager rises up to fight the system, it’s odd that the studio hasn’t pushed for it to be seen by the widest audience possible. Surely this in pole position to feed off the target audience of those films while they wait for sequels? Yet it’s arrived in cinemas with barely a poster in tow, and perhaps there’s a simple reason for it: it’s not very good. Of course we’re always going to be in safe hands with the likes of Jeff Bridges and Helen Mirren gracing the screen, but the film does this strange thing where we keep meeting these good actors, our hopes go up, then it all falls apart again. After a worrisome opening, we bump into Alexander Skarsgård, so we think it mustn’t be so bad. Then Helen Mirren appears, so it mustn’t be so bad. Then Jeff Bridges shows up, so it mustn’t be so bad. But it just keeps not getting any better.
From the off we find ourselves in troubled water as poor acting from the younger cast threatens to undermine any interesting ideas the film has. The black and white frame, symbolic of sensory deprivation, does something rather interesting as it gradually opens out into colour as the narrative progresses, but it’s never really allowed the freedom to be admired because our minds are too focussed on how weakly many of the lines are being delivered – and how weak many of the lines themselves are. The script is often (and unfairly) a scapegoat for bad films, much like a manager taking all the flak for a football team under-performing, but in The Giver’s case it really does cause problems. It’s the kind of writing that’s always trying to say too much while not saying very much at all; an unnecessary, obvious line will crop up when a simple expression would do, clichéd banter between the three young leads tries desperately to be fun and relatable when it should rely more on natural chemistry, and the endless expositional voice-over still leaves us wondering by the end just what was going on. I would imagine the book explains things a little better; the film needs to spend more time convincing the audience of its ideas. It just expects too much.
There are certainly some interesting ideas here, but they all appear to be borrowed from other, better films. It’s basically doing Equilibrium meets Divergent, but in a way that makes us wish we were watching either of those films. Of course I’m aware that the novel was written well before both of them, but that almost makes it worse. If this is the original, why does it play out so derivatively? There is something kind of charming about The Giver – perhaps the likeable cast and nice visuals – but it just fails on too many levels. Besides, even if everything else was peachy perfect, it would still be a film that features a baby surviving bike stunts, high drops into flowing rivers and long treks through the snow. Whose idea was that?