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Giver, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Dude, Where's My Humanity?"
1 stars

A few weeks ago, if you had asked me what the worst teen-oriented fantasy saga based on a YA book series that I never read set in a heartless and rigidly-controlled dystopian future featuring a seemingly ordinary and unexceptional teenager who is revealed to be an extraordinarily gifted individual and who goes up against the rigid and overwhelmingly adult power structure in order to break free of their formerly humdrum and barren existence, triumph over the forces of adversity and still a smooch or two from a fellow rebel of a similarly attractive nature that featured a cast populated with a mixture of young up-and-comers and a slumming Oscar winner clearly look for a franchise to hook up with, I would not have hesitated to respond by citing the dreadful, idiotic and unfathomably boring "Divergent." However, now that I have seen "The Giver," I am not so sure that I would still say that. As incredible as it may seem, this adaptation of Lois Duncan's 1993 book is so ineptly conceived and executed that it somehow makes "Divergent" seem borderline competent by comparison. In fact, the only aspect of the film that I can think of that might put it slightly over "Divergent" is that it is about 45 minutes shorter than that one, though the end result is such a weary and dreary slog that it still feels endless.

In the not-too-distant future, there is a place known as "The Community," a seemingly platonic paradise in which all forms of conflict have been eradicated (along with all races other than Caucasian, to judge from the looks of it) and where the entire population works together in seemingly perfect harmony and equanimity. What they don't realize is that to achieve this ideal state of living, all emotions have been suppressed thanks to the removal of all possible stimulus (everything from books to colors) and daily injections designed to keep everyone calm and docile. The only exception to all of this is The Giver, the one specially designated member of society who is secretly given access to everything--history, emotions, the color wheel--so that they can remember what once was, why such things had to be eliminated for the good of society and to pass this knowledge down to the next designee.

Our hero is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a seemingly ordinary and unexceptional lad of about 17 who lives with his parents (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) and younger sister, is the platonic best pal of uber-cutie Fiona (Odeya Rush) and awaits the selection ceremony that will reveal the position that he will serve The Community in for the rest of his life. Unexpectedly, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep. . .yes, Meryl Streep) informs him that he is to be the next Giver and to report to the current Giver (Jeff Bridges. . .yes, Jeff Bridges) in order to begin preparations for his top-secret duties. This might sound like a cushy gig but it may not be as easy as it sounds--when the last Giver candidate was selected ten years earlier, she apparently proved to be too sensitive to properly handle all the information that she was receiving and. . . well, no one really wants to talk about what happened to her. (We shall talk about her in a little more detail later on because her character is one of the most exceptionally screwed-up elements in a film filled with such things.) Still, as things go, this job sounds preferable to oiling widgets in Sector 7-G or whatnot.

Jonas begins his sessions and is first amazed and startled at all the things that have been hidden from him, both good and bad, and these revelations inspire him to begin questioning the world around him and to stop taking his injections. Before long, he begins to discover that everything that he has known has been a monstrous lie and that the other members of The Community are unknowingly performing hideous atrocities in the name of keeping their peaceful and trouble-free existence. Eventually, he discovers that if he journeys beyond the forbidden end of The Community and passes through the "Boundary of Memory," he may be able to restore all that had been taken away, though he will, of course, be destroying everything that his friends and loved ones have ever known about their world by doing so. Of course, this will not stand for those in charge and the Grand Elder does everything in her power to prevent that from happening.

Now at this point in the review, I think that I am supposed to remark that the plot sounds more or less like a teen version of "The Matrix" so that a fan of the book can smugly reply that Lois Lowry published "The Giver" in 1993, a full six years before the Wachowskis dropped their mind-blower on the world. Actually, I was going to remark that the story felt more like an amalgam of ideas and incidents cribbed from the likes of Orwell, Huxley and a half-remembered viewing of "Logan's Run," but never mind. Although the story may not be as original as its proponents like to think it is, that is not the reason while I feel so scornfully towards this effort. Face it, if you break down any current sci-fi film far enough, you can find a couple of earlier projects that it resembles in some way or another (okay, maybe not the works of Shane Carruth but that is about it). No, my problem with "The Giver" is that it takes these elements and not only fails to do anything interesting, stylish or provocative with them but it is still somehow under the delusion that it is more interesting, stylish and provocative than the competition--that is what makes the end result simultaneously so laughable and so aggravating.

For a film of this sort involving a future dystopian society to have even the slightest chance of working, it has to create a society that, if not entirely plausible, at least manages to demonstrate enough of a working internal logic for the story to hold. "The Hunger Games," for example, may not make a lot of sense when you sit down to pick at it but the filmmakers clearly put some thought into what they were trying to accomplish and the result was a film that laid out its premise in a clear and concise manner that managed to attract and intrigue hardcore fans and newcomers alike. By comparison, "The Giver" is so fuzzy-headed in it conception--this is one of those painfully metaphorical sagas that is so vague that it can represent practically anything to anyone--and clunky in the way that screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide have transposed it to the big screen that I never bought any of it for a second. Of course, nothing else works either--all the characters are bores, the dialogue is so arch and stilted that everyone sounds like a Gene Roddenberry creation and the philosophical discussions are so poorly staged that even the film seems to give up on them by transforming the last third of the story into just another orgy of explosions, chases and indifferent orgies of CGI effects that is surprising only when it is revealed that the director is none other than Philip Noyce, the usually reliable director of such stylish action films as "Dead Calm," "Clear and Present Danger" and "Salt" delivering some of the limpest and lamest work of his career, easily his worst since the debacle "Sliver" and even that had more of a personality than this one.

The performances are also pretty dreadful across the board and culminate with one of the most ill-advised casting coups that I can ever recall seeing. As our dullard of a hero, Brenton Thwaites generates all of the raw charisma that he displayed in films like "The Signal" and "Maleficent" and that is only the beginning of the problems with him. This is a character who is being exposed to the horrors of mankind's past, the duplicity of his present existence and the uncertainty of a future beyond that Boundary of Memory but instead of coming across as truly rocked by these revelations and experiences, he goes through the entire thing acting vaguely put out, like he couldn't find a Coke can with "Brenton" written on it. As his cute sidekick, Odeya Rush brings a little more fire to the proceedings but is stuck with a character who has virtually nothing to do for most of its running time.

As for the older performers, Meryl Streep coasts through a role that is as implausible and ill-fitting as the Gandalf-like grey wig she sports throughout (between this film and "Tammy," it appears that the art of wig-making is in serious decline) while Jeff Bridges, who produced the film and has been trying to get this project made for over 18 years, is a little better but he is just doing another one of the laid-back-dude-imposing-wisdom-on-feckless-youth roles that he has been specializing in over the last decade or so and frankly, he was more convincing doing it as a stoner penguin in "Surf's Up" than he is here. That said, both of them come off brilliantly in comparison to Katie Holmes, who turns in one of the worst performances of anyone's career, not just hers, as Jonas' mother. Granted, the character as written is virtually unplayable but Holmes' borderline-zombified take is so archly awful that every time she opens her mouth, all you can do is just sit there and think "Really?

The casting nadir, however, comes when we are treated to a series of flashbacks involving the previous Giver-in-training who disappeared because the revelations were apparently just too much for their sensitive soul to process. Considering that the film as a whole has been cast with relative newcomers in the younger roles with the older characters portrayed by more famous faces, you might expect the same to hold for this part as well. Well, you would be wrong because the part is played by none other than megastar Taylor Swift--not only that but she is introduced in a scene that finds her noodling at a piano. Now I like Taylor Swift as much as the next person but to drop her into the proceedings as this film does is the kind of move that is so distracting that it further derails a narrative that is already hurtling off the tracks and inspires nothing but bad laughs at a time when it can least afford to have them. Basically, her appearance is as ridiculous as the anonymous Roman centurion in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" being revealed as John Wayne and at least that film was wise enough to save that for its closer instead of dropping it in and then expecting viewers to continue to take things seriously. (However, if anyone wants to cast Taylor Swift as a Roman centurion, if only for the leather miniskirt factor, that would be okay by me.)

The one thing that I liked about "The Giver" is the black-and-white cinematography that dominates roughly the first third of the proceedings in order to demonstrate the colorless form of the community until colors begin to slowly insinuate themselves into the palate as our hero's outlook expands. (The effect is roughly akin to the one seen in "Pleasantville" when colors began to seep in as its characters gained self-awareness.) Beyond that, this could well be the single dumbest movie of a summer period that, you will recall, has included vehicles featuring transforming robots, mutant ninja turtles and Seth MacFarlane. However, by the end, it did finally occur to me how something like The Community could be allowed to flourish--perhaps in the literature promoting the joys of living in a dystopian world in which all memories were eliminated, they made sure to highlight that one of the biggest benefits would be that films as bad as "The Giver" could be forgotten once and for all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25910&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/14/14 17:46:40
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User Comments

8/29/14 Bob Dog Too short, but easily the best of the YA dystopia flicks! 5 stars
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  15-Aug-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2014


  DVD: 25-Nov-2014

Directed by
  Phillip Noyce

Written by
  Vadim Perelman

  Jeff Bridges
  Brenton Thwaites
  Meryl Streep
  Katie Holmes
  Taylor Swift

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