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'The Giver' review: Weighed down by its predecessors

Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges in

Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges in "The Giver." Credit: AP

"The Giver," director Phillip Noyce's handsomely wrought take on Lois Lowry's bestseller, may suffer for sins not of its own making.

It's the latest in the long line of movies -- "The Hunger Games," "Divergent," "Ender's Game," "The Host," "How I Live Now" -- made from novels set in a dystopian future where a young person has heroism thrust upon their slim shoulders. So it's impossible to look at "The Giver" and not see it as a collection of cinematic spare parts and young-adult sci-fi cliches.

Yet, taken on its own, it's a well-made and effectively told morality tale, spiced with some absolutely beautiful moments. It becomes heavy-handed in its third act but even that is not enough to totally undermine its pleasures.

In this post-apocalyptic world, civilization has been reborn under the watchful eye of the Elders. Social and genetic engineering have removed all differences and there's no conflict; everyone lives in sterile, well-ordered peace.

Then along comes Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) who, like all others his age, will be assigned his life's profession. His friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan), become a child-care nurturer and pilot, respectively, but Jonas is chosen to be a "receiver," selected to remember all of human history, well before this new society wiped everything clean.

His teacher is the Giver (Jeff Bridges) -- his predecessor -- who will pass along all of his knowledge. Nervous about the transition is the Chief Elder (a miscast Meryl Streep) because the last youngster chosen to be a receiver disappeared mysteriously.

Noyce exhibits a painterly eye as the film, paralleling Jonas' view of the world, moves from stark black-and-white to sepia-shaded tones to joyous color.

There are moments that echo such films as "Life of Pi" and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," two other works where the individual undergoes a journey that makes him see the world in a new, color-saturated and life-affirming way.

Never mind that the theme has been rehashed many times before. Noyce proves that it's not always the story, it's the storyteller.

PLOT In a dystopian future, a young man has heroism thrust upon him.

RATING PG-13 (mature thematic imagery and some sci-fi action/violence)

CAST Brenton Thwaites, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges


BOTTOM LINE Well-made, effectively told morality tale, but reminiscent of too many other young-adult movies.

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