The best I can say about Phillip Noyce‘s The Giver (Weinstein Co., 8.15) is that it’s clean, efficient, well-ordered and tidy. I’m not just referring to the tight assembly but the vibe permeating the totalitarian Disneyworld village that the hero, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), and his community reside in. I’m not sure if Noyce intended The Giver‘s style to be a reflection of this creepy Orwellian atmosphere and vice versa (in the same way Zodiac‘s obsessive attention to a serial murder case reflected Jake Gyllenhaal‘s tenacious attitude about same). Perhaps Noyce simply can’t tell a story without resorting to restraint, discipline, focus. Maybe he just can’t help himself.

I do know that fans of adaptations of dystopian YA novels (Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner) are used to more of a slambang presentation — more intensity, more VFX, a bigger scale, kick out the jams. Generally an emphasis on louder, heavier and splashier. The Giver is much more restrained. It’s chilly, antiseptic and fairly quiet for the most part. A bit of a neutered quality. That may well be the point, as noted, but one thing The Giver doesn’t do is rock your buzzsaw with howls and shrieks and big bassy woofers. I wasn’t expecting to be gutslammed, mind — I just wanted to get into it — but maybe fans of Lois Lowry‘s 1993 book will be a little more susceptible. I wouldn’t know. I’ll never fucking know. The more distance I can put between myself and the YA literary genre, the better.

I also know that Jonas is 12 years old in the book and is roughly 17 or 18 in the film. (Thwaites is actually 25.) And that there’s a big different between how a 12 year-old might react to being told that a pulsing, colorful and sometimes chaotic and painful world existed before everything changed and life became ultra-regulated and monochrome-y and totalitarian, and how an 18 year-old might react. The basic story is about how the extra-perceptive Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of past history, and that the bearded, vaguely stoned, half-muttering Jeff Bridges is the Giver of this history, and that the scheme comes undone once Jonas starts to say to himself (and eventually his friends) “wow…life used to be a lot more vivid and rich and symphonic!”

The question that follows is as plain as the nose on Phillip’s or Harvey Weinstein‘s face. Why would the “elders” of this Orwellian, classless, all-but-dead society want anyone at all to know that life was a lot more colorful and painful and occasionally ecstatic once upon a time? To what end? How can sharing this knowledge be anything but troublesome? If your bloodless, heavily medicated, black-and-white world is more or less functioning, why ask for trouble by informing one of your brightest young men at the very prime of his life, young and energetic and champing at the bit even with suppressants in his system (which Jonas incidentally stops taking)…why tempt fate? If I was Meryl Streep, the ogre-ish Big Sister in a ’60s hippie wig, I’d make damn sure that the past would be stamped out entirely.

Even the most heavily-medicated teenager in the world is going to respond to a vision of life with a little more pizazz and flavor. Of course Jonas reacts with intrigue and excitement to Bridges’ portraits of the past. Of course he’s going to go “wow, the world used to be filled with color and music and tragedy and wonder!” Why did the elders tantalize him in the first place? Are they complete idiots? The idea of a young kid being exposed to a rich and lustrous past and his controllers expecting or hoping that he will have either a neutral or unaffected response is, I’m sorry, ludicrous.

Jonas is aware, of course, that he lives in a closely-monitored society with video cameras all over the place. He might be naive but he’s not so stupid as to not understand there’s a considerable investment and commitment on the part of the elders to watch everyone very closely, and that if he wants to revel in his newfound knowledge about a more lustrous realm he needs to do this covertly. He has to be smart about it. Isn’t this what teenagers normally do? They live their lives covertly, hidden from their parents and other authority figures…right? So he needs to be careful. He needs to keep this new life a secret. But Thwaites makes no attempt to be covert at all, and this is quite infuriating. He’s utterly indifferent to the fact that he’s being watched 24/7. There is therefore no sense of tension at all in his various discoveries and spiritual openings. He’s doing this right out in the open, and Streep is on to him from the get-go.

But again, I was pleased with the order and the discipline of The Giver, whatever the reason for it, and I loved the black-and-white and pastel-tinted photography (which occupies the first third of the film), and I like Thwaites, a spirited, good-looking guy who could play George Eastman in a remake of A Place In The Sun. I hope that all the under-25s who read The Giver in school pay to see it, and that it reaps at least a modest profit. I don’t want Phillip or Harvey or The Weinstein Co. to take it in the neck. But I can’t shake this feeling that The Giver is a little over-regulated and …well, just not engaging or snappy or pizazzy enough. But maybe that’s me. I’m not “in” this, man. I’m just writing about my reaction. This is not my game or my kind of show, and that’s fine.

Want a more straightforward upbeat review from a really intelligent critic? Read Ann Hornaday’s take.