Monday, August 25, 2014

The Giver (2014)

Film: The Giver (2014)
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgard, Taylor Swift, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift
Director: Phillip Noyce
Oscar History: No Nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

I am not one of those people that think that you have to literally translate an entire book onto the screen.  Novels and movies are completely different and disconnected things, and should be treated differently.  This is why I wasn't overly concerned when word came that The Giver greatly differentiated from its original source material.  It's not the sort of book that would move to the cinema in a strong way-it's too cerebral, too talk-y.  It's the sort of thing, quite frankly, that Showtime would make a solid miniseries out of and that's probably the way that the film should have gone...

(Spoilers Ahead) Because even if you're going to only loosely base your film on the book that is your original, you still need to have a successful movie, and that's just not the case here.  It's time to just rip the bandage off for lovers of Lois Lowry's classic Newberry-winner: this is a truly bad movie.  I'm not entirely sure where to begin-perhaps with the plot.  The actual plot in the book is essentially a coming-of-age story for an eleven-year-old boy who must realize the world is a more dangerous and haunting place than what he was raised to know.  It spends much of its time focused on his learning about the world and his relationship with the Giver, with his childhood focuses slowly slipping away for something more meaningful.

The film, though, casts the 24-year-old Brenton Thwaites to play an eighteen-year-old, and I'm sorry to say this gets lost in translation.  Thwaites doesn't really appear to be eighteen (he's not a Stacey Dash style actor who can play that age indefinitely), and so he's already had a disconnect with the audience.  Admittedly he has lived in a deeply sheltered life, but it seems jarring to think that someone so old would know so little about the motives of people, and he approaches everything as if he is still eleven.  It wouldn't be so bad, except he has a deeply suspicious and ultra-cautious mother (Holmes) and shouldn't that have rubbed off on him as well?  It seems odd that he is so alarmingly unconnected from his mother and it hasn't rubbed off on his personality.

The overall plot, in fact, is pretty rudimentary.  There's little question of exactly whether Jonas will succeed (even for a summer blockbuster the roadblocks to his victory seem pretty ancillary), and he's given too little understanding onscreen to make the fact that he leaves so quickly believable.  Quite frankly, this character doesn't appear to be special or smart enough to deserve to be the new Receiver of Memories, and the fact that he's the "chosen one" becomes a giant yawn.  The entire final third of the film loses all of its poignancy because the film has been so predictable that we know exactly what's about to happen to every single character onscreen.

The biggest flaw, though, isn't the plot.  Movies have successfully managed quite predictable stories for years without much issue (Julia Roberts has made a career out of them).  The problem is the actors.  This is one of the worst cast films I have seen in years, and that's coming from a movie with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.  It says something that neither Bridges nor Streep are particularly good in this movie (Bridges is too dormant and rarely adds anything majestic to his Giver, Streep plays this with villainous snarls that emulate Miranda Priestley as an overlord...but not in a good way), and yet you're dying whenever they aren't onscreen.  At least both of them can act and add some sort of depth into what they're doing.  The rest of the cast it feels like they're reading from cue cards.  Brenton Thwaites is gorgeous, but is the human equivalent of an Ambien.  Even worse is Odeya Rush as his love interest, which may well be her name as she literally is just there to reflect his choices and not actually to do anything on her own.  It may be callous, but the entire climactic scene where she's about to die would have been a lot more compelling if we remotely cared about her character.  And of course there's Katie Holmes, who's got the darting look down right (I kind of wonder with her giant doe eyes and mastery of "emotion" faces if she would have worked well in the Silent Era) but every time she opens her mouth it's like grating against a chalkboard it's so one-dimensional.  I never thought I'd say this about a movie, but Taylor Swift actually adds something we're so bland at that point; though she only gets a cameo, she actually has a personality even if she's not a strong actor, and brings some life out in Bridges (more than the main character ever does).  The filmmakers smartly make most of the speeches during the climax by making them entirely between Streep and Bridges (perhaps by then they had realized what a serious error they had made in Thwaites and Rush?), but it's too little, too late, and not even two of the greatest actors of their generation can save us from this dreck.

Those were my thoughts on the awful Giver-what were yours?  Did you also feel like the true horror in this film was the casting, or are you a novel-loyalist who is wondering where the sunburn memory is?  Where does Brenton Thwaites go from this massive flop?  And what film do you think Streep and Bridges should do together under the more watchful eye of a better director (it would be a shame if this were the only movie they ever made together)?  Share in the comments!

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