The society is run by a stoic council of elders (headed up by scowling Meryl Streep, with Joni Mitchell's hair), who purport to have their reasons for draining existence of its passion and empathy.
It is done to protect citizens from the excesses of human passion - a record of which is kept in the mind of a special elder (Jeff Bridges), whose job is to pass this dangerous but important knowledge along to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), the young person selected to replace him.
This mind-meld process accounts for the movie's best passages - the community is a black-and-white world that bleeds and then explodes with color as Jonas absorbs and assimilates the staggering influx of emotional/historical information.
But, when Jonas is back at his monochrome home, with his parents (Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard) and their sanded-down emotions, the movie becomes wooden and a bit ridiculous. (I couldn't help but wonder if Holmes was drawing on domestic life with ex-husband Tom Cruise.)
Bridges' Giver also introduces Jonas to music by showing him a hologram of a former pupil on the piano - it's Taylor Swift, in a disconcertingly small role.
Given the shackles that the story places on the range of the actors, it's also not surprising that there's little heat in the budding romance between Jonas and a formerly platonic friend (Odeya Rush).
Those who love the book will probably not love the amped-up action-fueled conclusion, but you understand why filmmakers wanted to give the flattened-out movie a jolt of energy. What energy there is comes from old pros Streep and Bridges, during their brief scenes together as adversaries.