Review: The Giver

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The GiverReleased in 1993, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of the most controversial and influential novels of the 1990s. Banned from schools across the nation for being "violent" or "unsuited for younger age groups," this dystopic tale centers around Jonas, a young boy who lives in a literally colorless world of contentment.

Screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick have adapted this book in the sci-fi thriller film The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Patriot Games).

In what at first appears to be an utopian society of "Sameness" with absence of pain and suffering, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) seems content with his friends and family. He lives with his parents, the dutiful nurturer Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his more stern and unyielding Mother (Katie Holmes). His classmates Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are frequent companions, and prepare to receive their life assignment as even choices have been eliminated in this seemingly perfect society.

Jonas receives the most prestigious and ominous assignment of all -- as the Receiver of Memory, he must learn and keep the dark history of the Community to guide the Elders and prevent the tragic mistakes of the past. However, as he begans to learn from the current Receiver who is now referred to as "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), he discovers the dark history behind his community that has led to the absence of joy, pleasure, and color from their lives as well.

Jonas is faced with the difficult choice of accepting the role that he has been given, or do what he can with the aid of others to bring the Community back to the "real" world. Either way he must deal with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who is fearful and distrusting of human nature in his journey.

The production design and special effects of The Giver is fascinating, reminiscent of both classic sci-fi/dystopian films Logan's Run and Minority Report and presenting an otherworldly quality. The technology and science portrayed in this movie present a futuristic appeal much like Wall-E; with a more sinister tone.

The cinematography captures both the sterility of this society as well as some great action sequences, including sled rides and bike chases. The use of older images for war such as Vietnam and the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 to depict courage was an interesting one, staying true to the novel's origin of the 1990s rather than include more recent conflicts.

The stellar cast delivers fairly well. Both Streep and Bridges are well suited to their roles, although Bridges' gruff-old-man-speak seems a bit forced at times. Skarsgard's performance shows a bit more balance in his transformation from a Stepford-like Husband to a hesitant nurturer finally recognizing that not all of his work activities are ethical.

Unfortunately, Thwaites as Jonas barely moves beyond his initial emotionless state to a more complex one. Much of his animated behavior comes across as melodramatic than a complexity of self-awakening. Several plot holes are also quickly swept away, doing little to bolster his character. How does he determine and how can he be certain of his impact on the Community?

My reservations about The Giver would suggest that money would be better spent by waiting for this film to hit VOD or your local video rental stores. However, the art design, special effects and cinematography are impressive enough to catch this film during a matinee or at a discount theater near you -- I'll let you make that choice.

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