Review: The Giver


The Giver is an interesting book. It’s a young adult book, but it came out when that distinction was less important and less…well distinct. It wound up being something of a transitional book, generally read by kids between younger fair like Animorphs but not quite ready to move on to Lord of the Rings yet. As such tends to be either beloved by people who read it when they just getting to be mature enough to understand it’s themes or decried by people who thought it was boring because they were just a bit too young when they read it. And as I was a precocious youngster (you’re shocked, I’m sure) I was quite fond of it as a kid, although I haven’t read it in years.

And when I heard it was slated for adaptation (Young Adult adaptations are big business, as I’m sure you’ve noticed) I was nervous, but hopeful. It’s a well known and still well loved, so it might draw a defter touch than some other material. But, on the other hand it’s also a notorious slow burn, with a more cerebral storyline than most other YA stories and I recalled what had happened to other young adult books with slower more cerebral stories when they became films (Ender’s Game, Tales of Earthsea). So it was with…trepidation that I approached The Giver.

The setting is in the not too distant future somewhere in time and space. After a huge war, a council of Elders decides that the best way to keep it from ever happening again is to eliminate all emotions and competition, everyone living in their assigned roles. Our lead is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) who has just been assigned the role of being the only person who remembers history and emotions, taught by the titular Giver (Jeff Bridges).

I wanted to make an "Imma let you finish" joke here, but then I thought they might not be funny anymore.

I wanted to make an “Imma let you finish” joke here, but then I thought they might not be funny anymore.

The fact that this movie is bad, both as a stand-alone film and as an adaptation, really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The way it’s bad sort of sneaks up on you. It begins reasonably well, with a mostly good cast and a black and white color palette. From there it begins a slow descent into s***iness, until finally you just want it to end. By the end, I was surprised I had ever even had hope for the movie.

Which is a shame, because I was really was trying to like it. Cutting down on the subtlety? Alright, I can roll with it. Throwing in a really ancillary romance? Man, do we have to? Trying (and failing) to make it more action oriented? F**k you. Handing the movie a magic “fix everything” button for the 3rd act? No, really, f**k you.

The root problem with this is the script, which is bad for a movie that, by necessity, has to be so focused on story and character. So much of the story is given over to the romantic interest, basically all of which winds up being completely pointless. She hangs around a lot, but she doesn’t wind up really doing anything or being anything other than a cheap attempt to raise the stakes in the 3rd act, apparently unaware the stakes don’t need raising. By the time we get to the stupid mechanic through which the world will be completely fixed (did you think I was kidding?) it became completely clear to me that the screenwriters either didn’t understand the story they were adapting or didn’t care.

The good actors in the cast do what they can, but they wind up pretty hopelessly overmatched by lesser actors and bad direction. Jeff Bridges is easily the most into his role, also serving as a Producer (so he clearly wanted it to get made) and he’s probably giving the best performance in the movie even if I can’t help expecting him to want to go bowling. Meryl Streep is up and down, but she’s probably one of the better performers, and she’s consistently watchable, if nothing else.

"Listen here you little bastard, I'm not as laid back as Lebowski would lead you believe, so you better act better!"

“Listen here you little bastard, I’m not as laid back as Lebowski would lead you believe, so you better act better!”

Less promising are the younger actors, on whom so much of the movie rests. Thwaites is utterly dull, to the point where the direction has to keep trying to make up for his inability to convey the emotional parts of the movie. His love interest is equally dull, but her parts are so rare and isolated that it ends up not mattering. Also, Hollywood can I just say; I don’t know why Taylor Swift wants to keep appearing in movies, but could you stop indulging her?

This movie is such a boring non entity that I’m actually starting to run out of things to say about it. The additions it makes to the story, such as the way the community is portrayed or the drones, just serve to make things nonsensical. Why do they have drones patrolling the communities? They never explain. The direction is pretty flat and lifeless (which is a shame, because the director has some really good movies on his resume, like Patriot Games or Rabbit-Proof Fence). Without much in the way of a direct villain or even a rising action in the 3rd act, the movie ends up being completely tensionless.

"Why is there a point on this mapped labeled 'Deus Ex Machina'?"

“Why is there a point on this mapped labeled ‘Deus Ex Machina’?”

In a perverse way, the movie is actually kind of fascinating. Not to watch, no it’s terrifyingly dull to watch. But in a conceptual way, it might actually be one of the best examples of a failed adaptation in recent memory; Everything that made the book interesting, good or even just memorable, sucked out and we’re left with a hollow shell of a movie. I’d almost say it’s worth watching just to get an opportunity to see a completely s****y adaptation of a good book, but I don’t want to do that to you. Just stay far away from this one.

Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he think Katie Holmes was good casting, because this must be how her home life with Tom Cruise was like.


– good performance from Bridges and Streep

– does actually begin in black and white

– plot is…mostly intact?


– almost completely without tension

– all the other actors are terrible

– script is by and large pretty awful

Rating: 2/5


The following two tabs change content below.


Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

Latest posts by Elessar (see all)


Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

One Comment:

  1. Agreed–sadly there are some things that just… didn’t translate well as an adaptation? Lois Lowery’s talent comes in setting that mood, in making everything seem pretty normal until the reveal that all is not well–an in-world mystery that doesn’t work in a glorified visual setting, I find. šŸ™ Or maybe I am too attached to these books; there were some things that I thought were done well–specifically explaining the way the memory transfer process looked and felt like, and I gotta admit I was very pleased with the visual appeal of the “sled” and even the “wedding” and the other memory montages.

    But, in my humble opinion, The Giver is one of those awesome transitional middle grade books because it does tease into the dubious and uncertain–which is all well and good for writing and reading but that just doesn’t work on the big screen. (If done about heavy handed)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *