Bland, and almost self-defeatingly too simple, this may yet satisfy some of its intended early teenage audience, although it certainly pales in comparison with the much more adroit adaptations of other teen franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012) and ‘Divergent‘. Based on Lois Lowry’s hugely successful 1993 novel of the same name, which spawned three sequels and found its way onto the recommended reading list of many primary schools, expectations were understandably high for this relatively late translation to the big screen, especially considering the casting of acting goliaths Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges – although Streep’s role is almost identical to Kate Winslet’s in Divergent, in that she plays the female authoritarian at the helm of a dystopian future human civilisation and her actual screen time is very limited.
Bridges plays the ageing and indeed retiring ‘Giver’ in this society, whose role had been to experience human emotion, vitality and creativity in all its wonder and devilry in a community where the other humans do not experience any of what we would take for granted – rather, theirs is the loss of individual identity for the gain of being part of a cohesive unit. Also operating as a retainer of the memories of mankind, the Giver’s role is partly to just exist in case the others should require access to the wisdom he is a custodian of and so he has a unique role to play in their world, yet it is one also fraught with peril and secrecy and the time has come for the passing of the torch onto a younger candidate – Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who must come to deal with the socially isolating nature of the work chosen for him by the state, and also contrast what he learns with the neutered bliss that everyone else seems to think they are living in – then there’s the mystery of what happened to the previous hopeful for the job, and what could lie beyond the edges of their known world … (they live in isolation in the clouds, much like on the tepui of southern Venezuela)
Visually, seasoned director Phillip Noyce (‘The Quiet American’ 02, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ 02, ‘Salt’ 10) has decided to show us the world as Jonas initially sees it, so a huge early section of the film is in black and white before Jonas experiences colour for the first time, and although there is a logic to the decision it isn’t great for the audience and will doubtless leave those unfamiliar with the plot thinking perhaps something has gone wrong with the screen. The story has so much potential scope and yet what the film delivers is entirely humdrum – the not in the least bit surprising conclusion trundles towards us with a number of ropey moments, chief amongst them what a baby is subjected to at one point and unreasonably survives, and it seems fair to say that the novel offers more than this does – when we see Taylor Swift appear as one of the secondary characters the priority for financial success over artistry seems clear. At times an easy distraction, but it certainly should have been something more than that.