Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Giver Movie Review

Brenton Thwaites & Odeya Rush (r) in The Giver

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Nothing beats starting over, even if it means the loss of one's history, envy, hate and last names (oh, the horror!) I sat down to an early AM screening of Phillip Noyce's The Giver, fully expecting to doze off at any minute; but guess what? I loved it. Well, most of it (the end leaves a lot to be desired.) The story looks and sounds familiar in parts; but the acting is superb for this type of genre (thank you Meryl Streep & Jeff Bridges) and best of all... authentic. Utopia vs. the past: Let the games begin.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: The haunting story of THE GIVER centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Yet as he begins to spend time with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) who is the sole keeper of all the community's memories, Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community's secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined - a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. At extreme odds, Jonas knows that he must escape their world to protect them all - a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before. THE GIVER is based on Lois Lowry's beloved young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

What’s Best: Even in a thankless role (sorry, but the Chief Elder is a near carbon copy of Kate Winslet's Jeanine Matthews in Divergent) Streep shines bright like a diamond. She lends instant credibility to the entire movie, while delivering each line with simultaneous elegance & punch. The same can be said for Bridges, who slips into curmudgeon mode with impossible ease. Meanwhile, Thwaites and Mila Kunis-lookalike Odeya Rush bring the goods as Hollywood's most believable young couple since Leo and the aforementioned Winslet in Titanic. Not to be overlooked, True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård is nothing short of hypnotic as Jonas' dad/sympathetic caregiver (you won't believe what he can do with a banker's box!) and even Katie Holmes manages to delight as Jonas' tough-as-nails mother. Great casting.

What’s Not: I didn't mind it so much; but it's hard to ignore an overwhelming sense of déjà vu throughout The Giver. Here's just a sample of mainstream films you'll recognize - Divergent (a lot) Logan's Run (goodness, I'm going way back, aren't I?) The Matrix, Pleasantville and The Truman Show. Sci-Fi movies often copy from others, so I wouldn't make too much of it; but one has to address the elephant in the room, don't I?

As for the ending, it's downright silly. Who's idea was it to have Jonas carrying a baby in his arms, as he dodges drones, etc. through an impromptu obstacle course? Thankfully, it happens right before the movie ends... so the damage is minimal; but Noyce & co. dodged a big bullet, if you ask me. Once again, an otherwise great film fails to maintain its excellence to the very end. A-B-C. Always be closing.

Best Line: Streep earns her Chief Elder status by offering up, 'When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong... every single time.' Way to flash the optimism Meryl! Then again, as Holmes' character reminds us, 'The elders are never wrong.' I'm sold.

Overall: Considering this movie is likely aimed at teen audiences, I have to applaud The Giver for managing to entertain an old dude like myself (so effectively, to boot.) Credit Noyce's even hand, and a truly all-star cast to propel The Giver past a relatively unoriginal story. It's stylishly shot, not too long (94 minutes) and downright enjoyable to the very end (well, almost.) Not sure if it has the legs for a franchise, but round one proves to be a real knockout.