Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence and mature themes
Running time: 94 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Despite being born in the same year and enjoying overlapping enduring careers, Oscar-winners Meryl Streep (for Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady) and Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart) never made a movie together prior to “The Giver.” Such a long overdue collaboration proves well worth the wait in this haunting, sci-fi adventure set in a deceptive dystopia masquerading as heaven on Earth.
The film is based on the Lois Lowry best-seller of the same name which won the Newbery Award as America’s best children’s book of 1994. This author-approved adaptation was directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) who tapped fellow Aussie Brenton Thwaites to portray the young hero, Jonas.
The picture’s point of departure is the young protagonist’s graduation day, when he participates in a coming-of-age ritual during which 18 year-olds are assigned a profession by the elders of their idyllic community. Jonas’ BFFs Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) soon learn that they’ll be trained as a drone pilot and a nurturer, respectively.
Jonas, however, long recognized as special, because of an uncanny ability to see things differently, is designated the “Receiver of Memories,” the protégé of the “Giver” (Bridges). In that capacity, he quickly becomes aware that the whole society is a charade which shields its citizens from the fact that there is suffering in the world by injecting them once a day with a drug which keeps them naïve, obedient and blissfully content.
Truth be told, evil does exist in their midst, though invariably veiled, such as how the sick and the old are “Released” in a fashion that gives no hint that they’re actually being euthanized. And Jonas experiences a crisis of conscience in choosing whether to obediently follow in the Giver’s footsteps or to upset the apple cart by letting the cat out of the bag about how everybody’s mind is being controlled.
Among the factors influencing his critical decision is the unexpected pleasure associated with the “Stirrings,” the formerly-suppressed pangs of sexual awakening he suddenly feels for Fiona. Another involves the impending euthanizing of a baby with a birth defect (Alexander Jillings) he’s already bonded with.
Besides the historic pairing of Streep and Bridges, the film features sterling performances by the trio of emerging thespians playing the leads, as well as by Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift in support roles. A thought-provoking meditation on mind control offering a valuable lesson about the virtue of challenging any totalitarian authority.