Lois Lowry’s futuristic children’s novel The Giver tells of a seemingly idyllic society of ‘Sameness’, where pain, suffering and conflict have been eradicated and equality is endorsed at the expense of emotional depth and individuality.
At a graduation ceremony, young recruit Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is appointed ‘Receiver of Memory’, and given access to all the memories of the past before Sameness came into existence.
At the archives, Jonas meets his predecessor (Jeff Bridges), who mentors him in the forbidden pleasures (and suffering) of the past, on which the consequent fears of this current society is built. It isn’t long before Jonas acts upon his new eye-opening perception of the world.
Making his first foray into sci-fi, veteran director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Salt) does a good job at visually translating Lowry’s story to the screen.
Boldly elongated (but wholly essential) black and white visuals punctuate the eschewing drama, and the filmmaker allows his cast plenty of opportunity to breathe, particularly a brilliantly dialogue-chewing Bridges. Thwaites is a likeable enough lead too, holding his own impressively.
However, midway through, the film begins to burst beneath the weight of its own grand themes and ideas, hindering any emotional connection to the story.
A one-note supporting cast doesn’t help things. Meryl Streep (also making her sci-fi debut) is bland and submissive as the Chief Elder, sporting a horrifically distracting straight-cut wig that would give The Wicker Man’s Lord Summerisle nightmares.
Elsewhere, Alexander Skarsgard hardly registers as Jonas’ ‘father’, while Katie Holmes is poorly miscast as his ‘mother’ (already a stretch given that the actress is only a decade older than Thwaites in reality).
Kudos though to production designer Ed Verreaux (Contact, Looper), who realises an incredibly well-kept future world of pristine vegetation and clear-cut domestic interiors.
However, this (and a nice nod to Citizen Kane‘s Rosebud) isn’t enough to salvage a pedestrian sci-fi drama from becoming as crushingly dull as its own mediocre utopia.