'The Giver': What the Critics Are Saying

Phillip Noyce's adaptation of Lois Lowry's dystopian novel stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift and Odeya Rush

The Giver, out Friday, brings Lois Lowry's 1993 Newbery Medal-winning young-adult novel to the big screen, with Jeff Bridges playing the title character after a 20-year journey to adapt the dystopian title.

Directed by Phillip Noyce, The Weinstein Co. and Walden Media $30 million film also stars Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush and Emma Tremblay, and is expected to debut in the mid-teens. It will be playing in roughly 3,000 locations.

Read what top critics are saying about The Giver:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic John DeFore calls it "an agreeable YA riff on Orwell — via Logan's Run — topped with the kind of magic-transformative baloney that passes for an ending in too many otherwise-fine Hollywood adventures." He notes that "Noyce is unsurprisingly capable," "Streep is wasted as the heavy, enforcing conformity," and Skarsgard "more than anyone in the cast finds a way to embody Sameness while being unmistakably human."

In the world of The Giver, "with the exception of the psychic sessions between Jonas and the Giver, everything about this scenario is grounded in the physical world; order is maintained not by some ancient magic, but by technology, pharmaceuticals and old-fashioned authoritarianism." Therefore, of its lazy ending, he writes, "the hurdle Jonas eventually faces is more akin to the enchanted object that a wizard-battling hero can simply smash to break the spell enslaving his kingdom. Wham-bam, no need for feel-good scenes of the peace he has brought to his fellow peasants. This easy out should go over especially badly with readers attached to the novel's much more ambiguous end — though to be fair, audiences by now are so used to this type of nonsense that it hardly even registers."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes that "the enervating hash of dystopian dread, vague religiosity and commercial advertising-style uplift is nothing if not stale," adding that scenes "mostly evoke one of those tear-jerking commercials that sell their wares with gurgling babies and squirming puppies." The script is deemed "lamentable" and the film is "saddled with cheap digital effects and sets that needed more money or imagination or both." Though the book paved the way for The Hunger Games and Divergent, both film adaptations helped to make The Giver more marketable, yet "scene by formulaic scene, narrative cliche by cliche — [it] can’t help but come off as a poor copy of those earlier pictures." 

The  Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan says, "It's not that there's anything terribly wrong with The Giver, … It's more that the resulting film has a bland, earnest, even pokey quality that no amount of tinkering with the book's plot has rectified," pointing out its inherently action-less plot and twice-written script. The "added action sequences and increased melodrama feel half-hearted, where whatever stabs at tension and conflict we see have a clunky, manufactured air. … The problem with The Giver is not that it departs from the book by adding things such as surveillance drones and hints of romance, it's that it has been unable to find a way to make the essence of the novel cinematically involving."

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr writes that it's "a family-friendly dystopian nightmare that won’t offend anyone but won’t get them very excited, either." The production design of going from black-and-white to color "works, to a point, allowing us to access the world’s greater beauty at the same speed with which Jonas does. The sequences between the hero and the Giver are easily the film’s most interesting — they dramatize the birth of awareness — even if Bridges pushes his character’s great age into caricature at times. Thwaites does sincere well and existential agony rather less well. Streep seems to have summoned the minimum amount of her immense talent for this very sketchy role."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives the film two stars out of four and praises the adult performances over the teen character portrayals. "While the 1993 book was a thoughtful, subtle meditation on mind control and the blandness of life in a pseudo-Utopia, the movie doesn't convey that depth, … it lacks the resonance and mythic quality of Lowry's literary allegory." The memory sequences are less poignant onscreen than in prose, now like "a United Colors of Benetton ad," but the "movie's weakest segment is an extended action climax that turns this potent allegory — and its open-ended denouement — into a generic action thriller, complete with drones and menacing enforcers racing around on motorized bikes."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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