The Short- Besides Noyce’s nuanced direction and it’s all-star cast The Giver is a weak film adaptation of a strong novel. The script lacks the emotional gut punch of the novel, while the films runtime is an easy hour and forty five minutes it is boring and easily forgettable.
Book Adaptations are always tricky; most books contain pages of character development and dialogue. It is not always easy to take a dialogue heavy novel like Lois Lowery’s The Giver and turn it into a clear concise story. Sadly that is where this book adaptation failed, there is a concise story told during Phillip Noyce’s (Salt, Catch a Fire) The Giver but it is not quite the story told during Lois Lowery’s acclaimed novel. You can’t quite blame the director considering Noyce brings a visual beauty and nuance to his direction of the film, showing the film through the eyes of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a perceptive young man in a community that literally sees things in Black and white. It is explained early on that there Is no war, no death, no real human emotion is shown, felt, or received. Everyone apologizes for menial things and everyone accepts apologies right away. The word love is never used, if so you are quickly admonished. Jonas believes there is more to life, he knows it, so much so that he is picked to be the replacement for the receiver of memory (Jeff Bridges). The receivers job is to know the emotion and history of the world prior to this dystopian community and guide the village elders, a Job that we are told is especially difficult and it’s alluded too that a girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift) failed to acclimate to the position and was thus sent to Elsewhere (The retirement community just beyond where everyone else lives or so they are told). The receiver’s job is made especially complicated by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) whose eyes seem to always be fixed on Jonas as he wades through the emotions and historical facts he is told by the former receiver.
The Giver has elements that work, it’s plot carries some additional weight through todays social climate and Noyce’s direction is spot on with most of the film being in black and white because that’s how these people see the world. The film’s cast is good enough to carry a film of this variety if it weren’t for odd time jumps, plot devices, and poor character development. In one scene we see Jonas skip his morning injection (each member of the community is expected to take a morning injection that they are told is for health purposes) in the next scene Jonas tells Fiona he has been doing it for months, a little tidbit of information the audience wasn’t told until just then. The film is being told through the point of view of Jonas, we know this because once Jonas begins to see color Noyce adds the color to the scenes. It’s a shame a movie with such a unique mode of storytelling was unable to find a way for the audience to actually find these characters important enough to care about. The only character that needs to carry that emotional weight is Jonas and while Thwaites gives a good performance, Jonas survival is never in doubt. I never felt like any of the characters were in real danger even as the film’s final act came into focus, even as loyalty and friendship is tested I never found myself worried for our main characters. Possibly it’s because Jonas friends Asher and Fiona begin to undergo character development that all happens off stage. One day Asher is the rebellious friend and the next day he is a stern rule follower yet none of that is explained, there are even moments that maybe were supposed to include Asher getting jealous of Jonas as he begins have feelings for Fiona but we are told that Jealousy is not an emotion these people feel. It’s all a very odd mode of storytelling where the movie is told from the point of view of one character yet there are 6 characters that are important to the story and only 2 of them undergo any sort of development (Bridge’s Giver and Rush’s Fiona).
As far as the supporting cast is concerned its almost difficult to rate acting in this film because everyone is supposed to be so dry and so emotionless. People aren’t quite robotic but there close, especially Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes whom give ok performances as Jonas Mother and Father, even as Holmes’ character becomes a little infuriating as she works against Jonas for most of the film. Jonas friends Fiona and Asher are played by Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) and Cameron Monaghan (Vampire Academy), they are given a little more emotion but Monaghan’s change from Rebel to rule keeper occurs totally off screen and he for some reason goes back and forth between the two throughout the film’s final act. Rush is allowed to display her emotions more and is a talented young actress, maybe with a better script she could have given a better performance. The other interesting member of the supporting cast was Taylor Swift whom only appears in about 7 min of the film even though she has top billing and a poster with her face on it. Her character is explained by The Giver and her one scene doesn’t give her much to do besides play the piano. Her story is an important one to the films story but another aspect of the film that is told almost completely by word of mouth.
To be honest, it’s not like this movie had additional run time to work with if it were any longer than its 1 hour and 45 min runtime it would have been too long but that runtime seems wasted on unneeded sequences that could have been used to get a better handle on Lowry’s novel, instead it winds up as a wasted opportunity.