There is a reason that Lois Lowry’s 1993 book won the prestigious Newbery Medal and inspired millions of readers—as well as other dystopian YA best-sellers like The Hunger Games: It features children asking important questions and challenging draconian authority. But there also might be a good reason that the novel—which imagines a (literally) colorless, thought-controlled society that has banished memory of the past—took so long to finally come to the screen. Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent’s Prince Phillip) plays Jonas, a young man who sees flickers of color in the dreary Brave New World of sameness around him. Because of his gift, he’s chosen to be the next Receiver of Memories, the one person who bears all the pain—and pleasure—of humanity’s past so that the government’s status quo can be preserved. Unfortunately, his apprenticeship under the outgoing Receiver, a.k.a., the Giver (Jeff Bridges), is built upon cerebral gobbledygook that the screenplay and director Phillip Noyce never quite find a way to package visually.
Instead, we get flashes of life’s beauty and man’s cruelty, and when desperate, more and more underlined dialogue about the power of human emotions and the shackles of sameness. Bridges, who spent nearly 20 years trying to bring the novel to the screen, seems trapped playing the passive seer, and Meryl Streep’s villainous turn as the Jane Campion-haired Chief Elder will test the blind devotion of Golden Globe voters. In the end, the film practically collapses under its own…hmm, what’s the opposite of ‘weight’? In any case, it falls apart with a slapdash final act that doesn’t work as drama or action and only serves to undermine Jonas’s heroics. It’s treated as a quest so non-Herculean that you wonder why the Giver didn’t do the job himself years ago. Maybe he just lost interest too. C-