The latest dystopian film adaptation to hit the big screen is ‘Divergent.’ Veronica Roth wrote the popular young adult book trilogy. The strong performance of Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) as the heroine Tris is the highlight of the film. She gives the lead role the right amount of vulnerability and intensity that keeps you engrossed in her journey. Although it may not reach the heights of ‘The Hunger Games’ at the box office, it proves once again to Hollywood that women filmgoers do matter. Having read the book, Director Neil Burger and screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s narrative remain true to the main plot. ‘Divergent’ gives birth to an engaging teen franchise.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic society in Chicago. The citizens are divided into five “factions” or cliques responsible with its own duties. The “Erudite” are the brains, “Amity” are the peaceful hippies, “Candor” are honest and say what’s on their minds, the “Dauntless” are the warriors that protect everyone and “Abnegation” are selfless, govern the city and provide food to the homeless. Tris’ family belongs to Abnegation. It’s nice to see Ashley Judd as Woodley’s compassionate mother. It’s a solid performance. The book spends more time defining these groups. So if you haven’t read the book, it will take some time to remember each group’s function in society. It’s an important element that is a bit glossed over in the film adaptation. Woodley’s character Tris, like other teens, are required to take a test similar to an SAT that determines their place in society and one of the five factions.
When Tris gets her test results back, it reveals some startling information about her. She doesn’t fit neatly into one group. This gives her the opportunity to choose another clique. She decides to go with Dauntless. Who can argue with her decision? They get to wear cool black leather uniforms, jump from trains and shoot futuristic weapons that paralyze their victims. When a teen goes with a faction, they have to cut off ties to their family and can never return. This is heartbreaking news for Tris’ parents. It’s kind of like sending your kid off to basic training in the armed forces without any military leave. The brunt of the story now takes place in Dauntless’ underground training center with a unisex barracks for the new recruits. Tris befriends Christina (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet). It’s a terrific supporting role for her and she handles it with a flippant humor that is appropriate since she grew up in the Candor faction.
The rest of the ensemble cast is top-notch too. Miles Teller plays Peter, one of the bully’s Tris has to put up with during training. Many will recall Teller’s outstanding performance with Woodley in the high school drama, ‘The Spectacular Now’ last summer. An additional antagonist Tris has to contend with is Four (Theo James) that acts like a drill sergeant of sorts then turns into her love interest. The romance is a bit rushed in the film and goes into more detail in the book. Another thorn in her side is the tough trainer Eric (Jai Courtney) who looks like a punk rocker with neck tattoos. Through it all, Tris’ never-give-up attitude and her ability to control her fears allows her to move up the ranking system. The heart of the story is that Tris is actually a “Divergent” that can be a threat to an emerging fascist leader played by Kate Winslet in full ice-queen mode.
The Divergent trilogy is a welcome addition to the young adult film genre. Comparing it to ‘The Hunger Games’ series is a bit unfair. It certainly has similarities but this story’s premise deals more with conformity and how teens establish their own identity in society. Besides, it’s refreshing to see more strong female protagonists in theaters that normally cater more toward male heroes. ‘Divergent’ is a well-made action film with strong themes and a good cast lead by the capable and talented Shailene Woodley. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/336qJITnDi0.