The Giver review: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges star in a forgettable, disappointing film

By the time The Giver ends, you can completely relate to why the Elders didn't want the Communities to have any memory. We'd definitely be happier if we could forget The Giver had been made.

hidden August 14, 2014 17:23:54 IST
The Giver review: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges star in a forgettable, disappointing film

Looking at the number of Oscars Meryl Streep has to her name, you'd be forgiven for thinking this legendary actress can do no wrong. That if she's in a film, then no matter how bad it is, it will have a redeeming feature: Streep's performance. Director Phillip Noyce's new film, The Giver, is proof that even Meryl Streep has her limits.

In The Giver, Streep plays the role of Chief Elder, the leader of a post-apocalyptic world that initially sounds like it's been modelled on John Lennon's song, Imagine. There are no countries, only Communities. There is no notion of killing, no greed, and no religion too. People who live in the Communities see things in black and white, which is a not-so-subtle metaphor and a clue that things are going to unravel soon. Also, there's a curfew, which is never fun, and cameras are constantly watching everyone everywhere, which is definitely creepy.

The Giver review Meryl Streep Jeff Bridges star in a forgettable disappointing film

AP

In this brave, new world where no one remembers anything from the Technicolor era, there's a a boy called Jonas (Brenton Thwaites). He is, of course, just a little different from the rest. (God forbid the hero of a story set in a dystopic utopia actually be like everyone else.)

When young Jonas comes of age to graduate, the hologram of the Chief Elder tells Jonas that he has been selected to become the next Receiver. He has no idea what the Receiver does. But on day one itself, the Receiver-in-training realises why this job is such a big deal.

The Receiver is the bearer of memories of all the things that are forbidden in Communities — race, murder, war, colour, music, seasons. The Communities are all about sameness so all things that couldn't be made uniform, that inspired emotions, were removed. In The Receiver's home, however, there are books and in his mind are the memories of all those things that could make the human mind unstable. The one imparting all this to Jonas is the old Receiver (Jeff Bridges), who calls himself The Giver now that Jonas is the one doing the receiving.

While all this is literally quite gripping -- Bridges clutches Thwaites' forearms every time they go on a memory trip -- it isn't very engaging viewing. So, to add a little drama, a baby named Gabriel gets thrown into the mix, Taylor Swift has a cameo and the groundwork is laid to build up to a climactic chase.

Jonas's memory receiving sessions make him realise that the peace and stability in the Communities is based on cruelty and acts that would be inhumane if people realised what they were doing. They don't do so because they have no memory. He also spends a lot of time cooing to Gabriel.

The climax of The Giver is reached by winding through completely illogical and limp twists. It involves a dehydrated and hypothermic Jonas, a backpack and a baby. This may sound vaguely as though Jonas is going to grow up to play Zach Galifianakis's role in The Hangover, but it seems unlikely that Jonas, or anything from The Giver, could evolve into fun.

Based on a rather eerie novel by Lois Lowry, director Phillip Noyce has essentially bowdlerised the book to make The Giver a film that is weird, boring and largely illogical. The script by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide holds on to a few of the interesting ideas in Lowry's book, but they remove the detailing that made the world in the novel seem credible and coherent.

It doesn't help that Thwaites just isn't powerful enough an actor, though this script is perhaps not the best test of his abilities. Alexander Skarsgard plays Jonas's father and floats around, looking perplexed and keeping all his clothes on. Noyce gets the credit for directing a movie in which Streep delivers a performance with about as much substance as a hologram. Katie Holmes and Jeff Bridges look grumpy throughout The Giver, which makes sense. There's no reason to feel cheerful about a film that would have us believe that a baby can survive days -- in extreme temperatures -- on a single bottle of formula and the power of memories.

By the time The Giver ends, you can completely relate to why the Elders didn't want the Communities to have any memory. We'd definitely be happier if we could forget The Giver had been made.

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