Movie Review: Divergent (2014)

Posted: December 24, 2014 in Drama
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In a society in the future, after a devastating war, a wall is built and society is split into five factions based on personality types,  Dauntless, the brave, Amity the peaceful, Erudite, the intelligent, Abnegation, the selfless, and Candor, the honest.  At the age of 16, all members of this society must take an aptitude test, to decide what faction they belong to.  Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) comes from a family of abnegation, but her test is inconclusive, meaning she is divergent.   Divergent people are shunned in this society, because they are unpredictable, so she must keep her personality type secret.  Beatrice chooses a different faction then her family and chooses to be dauntless.

Triss, as she is now known gets a trainer called Four (Theo James) one of the leaders of the dauntless faction.  Because she is not dauntless born, she faces hardship from those born into the dauntless faction, at the end of the first round, she is scheduled to be cut from the competition.  Undaunted, she catches the train for the next round of training, with the help of Four , who has gained a grudging respect for her.  Does Triss make it through training and become a part of the dauntless faction?  Is the Erudite faction trying to take over governing from abnegation?

It occurred to me that the five factions in Divergent are very much like high school cliques. The smart kids hang out with the other smart kids, the shy kids hang out with the other shy kids, the jocks hang out with jocks, and so Divergent is just an extension of the high school social strata, with dystopian window dressing.  It is disconcerting that Beatrice chooses the warrior class.  What is worrisome about it is that we don’t see the carnage and sacrifice of war, what we see is a lot of cool training exercises, zip lining, and weapons that look like paintball with lasers.  When combined with the fact that this movie is aimed at pre-teen and teen boys and girls, this movie begins to look like a military recruiting ad, and that is troubling.  And of course action-starved Hollywood is more than happy to pour on the violence.  I found the Hunger Games to have a better plot, and Ender’s Game is probably the best of the young adult lot.

The romance between Triss and Four is obvious, they start out hating each other and end up willing to die for each other.  At least it’s not a love triangle.  I have to say the last 45 minutes of Divergent is actually exciting and filled with a sense of urgency.  The dramatic tension was palpable and it held my interest much more than the Hunger Games sequel.

The performances were so-so.  Shailene Woodley was good in the dramatic aspect of the movie, but no-so much as action girl.  She overplayed her role as George Clooney’s bratty daughter in The Descendants, so it was nice to see her give a restrained performance in this movie.   Theo James looks like he stepped out of GQ magazine, his acting was wooden, but the studio only cares that he can set teen girls hearts a flutter. Theo James is 30, and Woodley is 23, a little old for a movie aimed at tweens and teens.  Zoe Kravitz gives a good performance as Christina, Triss’ best friend, and ironically her father is in the Hunger Games movies.  Ashley Judd gives a good performance in a small role as Triss’ mom,  And Kate Winslet gives an an outstanding performance as a power hungry bleach blonde Erudite leader.  Maggie Q is also good in a small role as Tori Wu, the woman who administers the aptitude tests.

The direction is ok, nothing visually mind-blowing, the pacing is good and he gets the most out of his younger actors, but Neill Burger seems fixated on Shailene Woodley’s hair for some reason, several scenes have tight closeups on her hair, as if to say, even in a dystopian war torn world, you can have fabulous hair.  It’s a visual disconnect.

The amount of violence is disturbing, the plot is formulaic, but it works as an action film. So if you have pre-teen kids, I would watch this film with them.

Divergent:  Doesn’t diverge enough from an already tired Hollywood formula.

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