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The Giver

The Giver has been a Young Adult best-seller for more than twenty years, but the film adaptation reminds us why some ideas are best explored in the medium for which they were created. Reading the book, a young reader could readily imagine what it must be like to live in a future world devoid of emotions: a community where sameness is celebrated and everything is seen in black and white. Literalized on screen, the story seems contrived and familiar, while the hero is colorless—pun intended.

I suppose it wouldn’t make sense to have a highly charismatic actor in the role when everyone in this future society is supposed to be docile, even dull. (A daily dose of meds makes certain that no one feels anything too deeply.) Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites gives a capable enough performance but never manages to draw us in—a crucial problem the movie never solves. The same can be said of the actors who play his two best friends, Cameron Monaghan and Israeli newcomer Odeya Rush. Their dilemma is clearly delineated, yet I felt myself at arm’s length throughout the picture.

The only actor who is allowed to dig into his role is Jeff Bridges, as the title character (officially, the Receiver of Memory). He is charged with passing on his unique knowledge of human history to his youthful successor, Thwaites: everything that’s been wiped out of the collective consciousness, from exhilaration and joy to human suffering. Bridges brings his professionalism and passion to the part and earns our empathy. (The actor has been trying to get this movie made for two decades, and is one of the film’s producers.)

Meryl Streep gives a one-note performance as his superior, the Chief Elder of the carefully controlled Community whose job is to maintain the status quo. Any film in which Streep is unimpressive is notable, but not for the right reason.

Perhaps the screenplay (credited to Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide), like the book, reads better than it plays. Phillip Noyce is a solid director, but he hasn’t found a way to imbue his film with the emotional resonance it demands. Sorry to say, The Giver is a misfire.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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