Movie Review: ‘The Giver’ Hits Highs and Lows

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Preston Barta // Film Critic

THE GIVER | 94 min. | Rated PG-13 | Director: Phillip Noyce | Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander SkarsgårdKatie HolmesOdeya RushCameron MonaghanEmma Tremblay and Taylor Swift

Rating: 2.5/4

giver_ver9Based on Lois Lowry‘s hugely popular novel (that everyone either read in high school or saw on the shelf in the library), THE GIVER follows a young boy named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) who is chosen to learn from an elderly man (Jeff Bridges) about true pain and pleasure in a world where there hardly is any.

Jeff Bridges has been trying to get this story to the big screen for over 20 years, and it’s a pity that it took as long as it did, as comparisons to the likes of DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES are inevitable (even though the book was written long before the writers of those other popular young adult book series touched pen to paper). Watching the film, it immediately feels derivative of those other science fiction adaptations: people are divided into a class system, there is a chosen one to change the way of the world, a love story, etc. Yet, while the foundation feels familiar, it’s in the details that this particular story feels fresh and interesting.

One of the most salient things about the movie is that it starts out entirely in black-and-white, which may throw some audiences for a loop, but it adds a great deal of fascinating depth and perspective. We are meant to see the world as the people of the community do – a world without differences and judgement. Another cool feature is how the film makes the small things in life seem big again. I bet you can’t remember that first time you saw a tree or the sky. Of course you don’t; we were all babies then. THE GIVER causes us to reflect and re-experience things such as a mother’s love, death, pain, and true happiness, and it’s pretty neat. And lastly, this film clocks in at an hour-and-a-half. It cuts to the chase and keeps things moving. Thankfully.

So, where does it go wrong? Apart from the visuals and certain story details, the remainder is merely average. The cast (besides Bridges) mainly seems to be going through the motions, giving the type of lifeless performances that comes with the territory (think of a bunch of K-Stews). There are so many interesting places that the film could go with a story like this; however, too bad it never really ventures too far beyond the most obvious and expected places.

Overall, it’s a hit-and-miss film. It offers more entertainment and heart compared to last weekend’s releases, but it’s no GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. It’s a solid film to watch if you’re looking to kill 90 minutes, or if you’re a fan of the book and want to see where they deviated.

THE GIVER opens tonight at 8 p.m.

Check out our Fresh Fiction interview with star Brenton Thwaites

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.