It is a hot time in the old town tonight, and what I mean by old town is a post-apocalyptic Chicago. Divergent was fun; not necessarily a ton of laughs (more giggles than was in the book) but enough action to keep audiences focused.
Based on the first novel of the trilogy by Veronica Roth, Divergent does a good job explaining what all of the five factions that keep society going – Abnegation (selfless) Amity (kindness) Candor (honesty) Erudite (intelligence) Dauntless (bravery). Working together they keep society (what’s left of Chicago) on an even keel, however a new classification is starting to take hold, people who identify with more than one trait and these people are…cynics. Just kidding, they are divergent and must be hunted down lest they infect their intelligent honesty or kind selfless bravery into the larger culture.
Beatrice Prior (soon to change her name to Tris played by Shailene Woodley) is the daughter of Andrew Prior (Tony Goldwyn) an Abnegation leader and his loving supportive wife Natalie (Ashley Judd). Abnegation has been the fraction that leads Chicago because it is believed that government needs selfless leaders. Because Abnegation’s position other fractions, such as the Erudites, feel slighted. Lead by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) the Erudites have spread rumors about the Abnegation leaders and on the sly have been working with the Dauntless hierarchy to change the way things are run.
Divergent did a good job translating the book to film. Screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor edited out the right parts of the novel to keep the action flowing. The computerized special effects transforming modern day Chicago to a Chicago that has seen better days (minus Lake Michigan) were intriguing. Neil Burger did well directing; his previous efforts include The Illusionist and Limitless.
Because the source material is so straight forward, Divergent did not fall into the trap of other movie translations of young adult series such as Vampire Academy and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones where the novels involve a lot of detail that a two hour film has difficulty providing – think all of the novel Game of Thrones told within a ninety minute timespan. It should also be noted that the titles of the before mentioned films did not help at the box office – especially for ticket buyers who had never heard of the books.
Shailene Woodley made a good Tris although it is obvious when comparing her to Zoe Kravitz who plays Tris’ best friend Christina that she may be thin, but she isn’t the smallest person in the room, which is how the character is described in the novel. Despite all of her hippie talk in interviews Woodley is a compelling screen presence and has a bright cinematic future ahead of her (as long as she follows this simple rule, everything Lindsay Lohan has done, do the opposite). Side note, Woodley’s hair was breathtakingly beautiful, she claims to make her own shampoo, assuming she wasn’t wearing a wig or some other hair aid, I want the recipe.
Rounding out the cast is Theo James who plays Tris’ mentor and love interest; Four. If you are racking your brain wondering where you have seen James before rack no longer; he played the notorious Kemal Pamuk who deflowered Lady Mary on the first season of Downton Abbey. If you haven’t seen Downton Abbey but are appalled by his character’s rakish description, don’t worry, he paid dearly for the privilege of being Lady Mary’s first. I digress; James and Woodley were a good pairing, which is very important for movies of this genre, if the leads don’t have chemistry the rest of the storyline won’t be able to save it – i.e. Beautiful Creatures. The noted exception is Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Game.
The next novel in the Divergent universe is Insurgent and it has already been green lit for filming. It will be interesting to see from here on out how well the movies follow the book series considering the controversial ending of the last novel. By the way, for those who may watch the film but not read the books, don’t worry, you will soon get a look at what is beyond the fence.
I recommend seeing Divergent if you like your teen angst nihilistic. Yes, there are similarities to The Hunger Games but enough differences where I can safely say that if you like Hunger you will enjoy Divergent without feeling you are viewing The Hunger Games reimagined. For fans of the novel it was a joy to watch. Overall it is put together well but I do not know if older audiences will flock to it because it appears segments of the population are getting cranky over their science fiction being told through the eyes of a teenage girl, but hey, I won’t get on your lawn if you don’t get on mine. I think Divergent is best viewed in a theater, but can be enjoyed on DVD or cable.