Hollywood very often perplexes me. On the one hand, you have a system that seems designed to reward non-creativity; sequels and remakes abound, stars are paid more than the GDP of some nations to appear in the same role over and over again, some directors make films using every special effect they can dream up yet spend no time on character development. Now, they are starting to claim release dates for films years in advance, before screenplays are even written. If a big film claims a certain date, other studios will frequently stay clear. If the big film is a success, good planning. But very often, these films flop and the studios are then stuck with releasing two, three, four more interesting films on the same day. One week, a drought for the viewer, the next week a flood. And if a particular type of film is successful, the studios jump on the bandwagon and try to replicate the success.
With the success of "Twilight", "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent", every producer is looking for the next big teen quadrilogy. And if the story includes some sort of dystopian view of the near future all the better. Many of these clones were flops, in fact, so many were flops the studios were starting to avoid the format, looking for the next big thing. "Divergent" was seen as a bellwether for the genre. Due to it's success, you can expect to see more of these Teen Dystopian Future films.
When you hear about a new film like "The Giver", you look at the checklist. Based on an extremely popular Young Adult book. Check. Starring a young, good looking, crush-worthy kid. Check. Bleak-ish future. Check. Competent director. Great actors playing the adults. Double check. It has all the hallmarks of a hit, a huge hit, to make all of the teenage boys and girls flock to the theaters and spend their allowance on a ticket.
But "The Giver", a very good film, is not connecting with the audience and making the box office it should.
One of the key problems is that the studio is releasing the film in mid-August. Unless your film is released the first or second weekend, you will have to compete with the beginning of school - all of the audience is either headed back to school and dealing with the shock of sitting in a hot, stuffy classroom, or they are prepping for the beginning of school. This is why the last two weekends of August and Labor Day Weekend are traditional dumping grounds; the studios push films they have no confidence in into the multiplexes, for the requisite theatrical run, giving the Video-on-Demand release the requisite promotion.
But "The Giver" is not "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" or "Vampire Academy" or any other recent teen-centric film that failed to connect at the box office. Those losers were pretty bad, bad acting, bad story, bad everything and deserve to be quickly forgotten. “The Giver” is different and contains one of the most interesting and complete visual styles I have seen in a film in a long time. It has an engaging performance from Brenton Thwaites ("Maleficent", "Occulus") and great performances from Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. It is a very good film and deserves the audience and accolades of "The Hunger Games".
It is the future and "The Troubles" are in the past. To prevent future problems, society is markedly different. Everyone has a curfew, they refrain from using 'imprecise' words like 'Love' and they are assigned their jobs for life when they reach their sixteenth birthday. Jonas (Thwaites) lives with Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his sister Lily (Emma Trembly). Every day, before leaving their house, they must take their 'medication', placing their wrist over a small shelf built into the house, they receive an injection that serves to keep everyone calm and sedate and this also forces them to see the world in black and white. The community gathers for the annual rite of giving the young people their life professions. The Chief Elder (Streep), present as a hologram because she has to do this same ceremony in many communities on the same day, begins to hand out the jobs, but skips Jonas. He stands there, unsure, anxious, until she reveals that he will train with The Giver (Jeff Bridges) and learn everything there is to know about the history before The Troubles. The Giver advises the Elders, to help them make accurate and sound decisions in the future. The next day, Jonas rides out to the Giver's house, a large library, and they begin to talk. The Giver has a lot of memories to share, both good and bad, and he tries to help Jonas learn them in an orderly fashion, but also to help him learn them in a way that won't scare him away or make him go crazy. As Jonas learns more and more, he begins to see things differently; the memories and images he sees are in vivid, bright, oversaturated color. But this also affects how he sees the world around him, the color begins to show there as well. He tries to convince his girlfriend, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and his best friend, Asher (Cameron Monaghan) that they need to stop taking their medication and open their eyes. Naturally, the Chief Elder gets wind of Jonas' new, destructive thoughts and wants to stop them.
Jeff Bridges is playing much older here; I heard that he originally wanted his dad, Lloyd, to play this role but years of development prevented that.
As the Giver, Bridges walks a delicate line; he is always a bit glum and emotional. He knows things no one else knows some of these things, horrifying things, are effecting his emotional stability. But he has lived with them for so long, he is a little used to them. Now that he has the opportunity to pass on this knowledge, he has to do so in a slow, balanced way, to prevent Jonas from running away. As they proceed, each realizes something different has to happen.
Bridges takes the Giver through a few subtle changes and it is a very good performance.
Streep plays the Chief Elder, always smiling to hide her true feelings, her true emotions, to put on a brave stoic face for the public. As Jonas becomes more of a threat, she becomes more involved and more menacing. At once, she seems like your favorite teacher and also your favorite aunt who is now trying to have you killed. It is also interesting to watch her portray this power figure because you never really know if the Chief Elder has knowledge of what the Giver knows.
Directed by Phillip Noyce ("Patriot Games", "Clear and Present Danger", "Salt") and written by Michael Mitnick and Robert Weide and based on the book by Lois Lowry, "The Giver" has a lot more than most of the new Teen Dystopia films we have seen recently. It has a great vision created by a director known for some pretty intense action films - he almost seems to channel the intensity of an action film into this more dramatic work. It has a pretty good screenplay based on a perennial bestseller originally published in 1993. And it contains very good performances, particularly from Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes.
Why isn't it making more money? Why isn't it selling more tickets? Go. See this film.