At the beginning of The Giver, which opens areawide on Friday, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) literally sees the world in black and white. The movie's first half is filmed in black and white, and it's one of the best tricks in director Phillip Noyce's (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) rather sterile adaption of the Lois Lowry novel.
Jonas, it turns out, has spent his childhood in a utopian society characterized by "sameness." He and his family members aren't allowed to express their emotions — holding hands with someone who isn't a family member is forbidden and so is using words like "hate" and "love." At a ceremony designed to mark the passage from childhood to adulthood, his friends are all assigned their respective roles in society. Not him. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) pulls him aside. And before you can say "divergent," he's cast into the role of Receiver of Memories and sent to study with the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges), whom he nicknames the Giver.
In predictable fashion, Jonas learns that there is more to life than what he's been taught. The Giver holds all the memories of what life was like before "sameness" took over and he slowly imparts them to young Jonas. Jonas learns about life and death. He learns about war and peace. And it's at this point that he realizes he's in love with childhood friend (Odeya Rush) and decides he's got to find a way to express his feelings. He also realizes that the Giver truly loved (and deeply misses) his daughter (country singer Taylor Swift), whom the Giver once tried to train as a Receiver of Memories. The movie's climax comes as Jonas tries to find a way to save the community from what he realizes is one big lie.
Bridges has reportedly been interested in adapting the book ever since it came out, and he portrays the Giver as if it's an extension of all the other gurus he's played over the years. He's terrific, mumbling bits of wisdom and walking around in a half-daze. The rest of the cast doesn't have much to offer, though we must admit that Katie Holmes, who plays Jonas' mother, makes for a good Stepford wife.
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