As a precursor, I only remember moments from the book, as our class read it back in like 5th grade, so I’m not knowledgeable of what happens in the book. I’m reviewing this as a film completely devoid of any source material.
The gist. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is a normal kid in this utopian society, where everyone is polite and formal and there’s no problems. In the film, everything is black and white (and that’s the way they perceive the world as well). Jonas though, has started to see flashes of color, and it makes sense when he is assigned a career and it’s to become the society’s new “Receiver of Memories,” the only person in the society to have memory of the past. His parents (Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard) notice a change in him, once he begins training with the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges). The antagonist of the film is the society’s leader (Meryl Streep), who fights to keep everything the same and is frustrated when Jonas begins to cause ripples in their world.
This movie was fascinating to me, probably due to the book’s source material being solid. It managed to create a dystopian (or utopian, based on your viewpoint) future that was interesting without resorting to violence. So often now, in these copy and paste dystopian movies that are coming out, there has to be fighting. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner… Here, there’s no fighting. And it’s one community. There’s no warring factions. But it manages to be enthralling and interesting.
To make that story come alive though… Director Phillip Noyce did a tremendous job I thought. He has a very eclectic resume, including Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Angelina Jolie’s Salt, and Denzel Washington’s Bone Collector. Here, he’s managed to create a visually interesting world that could have potentially been very boring to watch. And when our hero Jonas starts to see history, he brilliantly intertwines clips and videos of real life events, that both delight and traumatize our hero. It’s these flashes that give the story depth, as it makes us relate to it. We see war in the Middle East, we see videos that went viral because how happy they made us… These are flashes of our reality and it makes their reality much more believable and interesting when put into that perspective.
Thwaites was great as the hero Jonas. He was able to infuse enough emotion into his performance to counterbalance the rest of his cast which was supposed to be emotionless. And Jeff Bridges as the previous Receiver steals the show whenever he’s on-screen. He has a perfect amount of jaded realism but passion and hope for the future.
What doesn’t work?
The final act of the film is a little strange and drags on a little too long, for the first time in this movie making me think about how much of the movie is left. The final moment of the movie is also a little jarring. In a movie that isn’t afraid to show you so much, it felt strange to be so withholding in the final moment. It left the audience awkward and silent as the credits started rolling.
I was really impressed, as these trailers didn’t show off the best parts of the movie. I wasn’t looking forward to this, but I’m really glad I gave it a chance. The film’s balance in both performance and visual aesthetic is perfect. An awkward ending and slow final act are the only things that detracted here, otherwise a stellar movie and one you shouldn’t miss.