The Giver has an odd history, one that works against it. In 2014, this tale about a future where teenagers have a special, prescribed function when they reach a certain age seems to be jumping a bandwagon, trying to grab just a bit of the Hunger Games money. Except the novel on which this film is based was written in 1993, fifteen years before the first Hunger Games book.
Jeff Bridges had long shown an interest in turning the book into a film, far enough in the past that he hoped his father, Lloyd Bridges, could play the title character (Lloyd died in 1998). Various occurrences kept The Giver from reaching the screen until 2014, by which time Jeff was old enough to play The Giver himself.
It’s understandable that The Giver might get lost in the shuffle. It made a bit of money, partly because it was relatively cheap to produce ($25 million), but it wasn’t the smash many had hoped for. At this point, all anyone can hope is that The Giver is rediscovered down the road.
There is just one problem with that scenario: The Giver isn’t a very good film.
It has an interesting look, in particular the way it plays with color. But while the initial concept is intriguing, the movie gets stupider the longer it goes on. By the time the end rolls around, your brain is mush. The acting doesn’t help … everyone seems to have been directed to be largely emotionless, which makes a bit of sense in the context of the story, I suppose, but which nonetheless coats the entire film with blandness. Meryl Streep is usually noteworthy, even if, like me, you aren’t always a big fan of her performances. At the least, you can say that she has never fallen into the trap (call it the DeNiro Syndrome) of making crappy movies just so she can get paid. (This isn’t to say that she never makes a crappy movie, just that she is dedicated to making good movies, even when the result is lacking.) Here, though, Streep comes across like a combination of several characters in the Wizard of Oz, most notably the Witches (good and bad) and The Great and Powerful Oz himself. Amazingly, though, this campy approach turns out to be just as boring as everyone else’s acting.
Jeff Bridges is the only actor who escapes unharmed. He gives his usual low-key performance where the depth is apparent without chewing the scenery. I’m glad he got to make his movie at last. 6/10. For a better Jeff Bridges movie, go back to The Last Picture Show. For a better use of color/B&W, try Pleasantville.
(Requests are always welcomed.)