By Gary Murray
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet
Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor
Directed by Neil Burger
Running time 139 min
MPAA Rating Cable
Ever since the massive world-wide success of The Hunger Games, producers have been looking for the next teen sci-fi/fantasy project. There have been such films as The Golden Compass, Ender’s Game and The Host trying to catch this cinematic spark of the youth market. The latest is Divergent.
Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, the story takes plays in a dystopian future. In the walled off city of war-torn Chicago, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is a girl struggling to survive. She lives with her parents in a small home that looks more like a bombed out shell.
With regulations to keep law and order, her society is divided into five sects and each sect does what is does best. Some are the protectors called Dauntless; others are Candor, Amity, Abnegation and Erudite. They all have specific jobs and are separated. Once it is chosen, an individual must stay with their group.
Before each teen chooses which group they become a part of, a test is administered. Beatrice is worried about this because she is unsure of what direction her life should take.
At the test, the administrator (Maggie Q) tells her she is a Divergent, meaning she has different sects in her psyche. Divergent individuals are dangerous individuals, outcast members of society. No one wants to be a divergent. The administrator tells Beatrice to lie and tell everyone that the tests were inclusive.
At the ceremony, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, much to the surprise of her family. She is now has a new family and must forsake her biological family, including her mother Natalie (Ashley Judd).
Soon, she finds that being a part of this rough and tumble group is not going to be an easy fit. She must learn to fight and finds out that the bottom of the class becomes a part of the outcast crowd. Beatrice takes on the name Tris, showing her accepting of Dauntless and a rejection of her old life.
One of the trainers is Four (Theo Thomas). He is a stoic, chiseled-jaw warrior who looks like a model from Teen Beat magazine. He shows interest in Tris and wants her to succeed. He is just the dreamy but slightly dangerous looking older boy that a 16 year-old girl falls for.
There are two stages to become a part of Dauntless. The first is physical and the second is mental. A brain machine taps into your inner thoughts and finds out your deepest fears. Since Tris is a divergent, she knows that the tests are not real. Basically, she has no fear of the test.
Kate Winslet is Jeanine, a bigwig at Erudite. She is looking for Divergent individuals so they can eliminate them. She believes that human nature is the enemy and must be eliminated. If Jeanine discovers the secret behind Tris, her life will be in danger.
The film builds to a plot by one of the sects to get rid of another sect. All the plot explication leads to a confrontation that doesn’t crest to a true finale. The film is just the first part of a trilogy so we have to wait until the next chapter to get further along in the story. But it does have a slight climax. It is more like a serial than a completed motion picture.
Neil Burger is the director behind one of the best films of 2006, The Illusionist. This film is not up to that masterpiece. He has failed to capture the emotional resonance of the characters. It hits the beats but there is no passion in the proceedings and no spark between the characters. At times, different characters seem to be out of different films.
At nearly 2 ½ hours, there is a lot of information delivered in a short time. It flies along at a brisk pace but there does not seem to be a sense of urgency within the plot structure. There are too many scenes that do not drive the plot along.
Shailene Woodley is exactly what is expected for the role. She is pretty but not too pretty, much like the girl next door. She is just the kind of heroine the young adult audience wants, a girl that the audience can relate to on a young adult scale.
Ashley Judd just looks lost as mom. It is a role that is not that defined or executed by the actress.
Divergent is a solid entertainment that scores with its audience. It will not translate well past that group and is not the kind of film that will be remembered as master-work cinema. It is just a flick for the young masses.