Divergent

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UK Release Date 4th April 2014
Director Neil Burger
Starring Shailene Woodley
Runtime 140 Minutes
Certificate 12A
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 15th April 2014

As you may or may not be aware this half of Broken Shark has had a new baby and so is confined to mother and baby screenings and Curzon Home Cinema for a while. Divergent felt like a more appropriate film to watch whilst nursing a 6 week old rather than other films on offer, Nymphomaniac for example. I’ll wait till she can hold her head up and avert her eyes to show her that. 

Poor old Divergent. No matter how brilliant it is it is (but don’t worry, it isn’t brilliant) it is doomed to be under the enormous shadow cast by that other little known teen movie with a female protagonist, The Hunger Games. The similarities are numerous – adapted from beloved, best selling young adult novels, futuristic dystopian society where people are held in differentiating sections varying in quality of life (In Divergent they are called Factions), a fear of any individuality and at the heart of it all a mild mannered teenage girl with a lion’s heart that simultaneously threatens the order of this society and can spell freedom for all. Throw in a hot boy or two and some sexy uniforms and see? Almost interchangeable plots. Shame Hunger Games did it first and bagged JLaw before anyone knew she was going to bag an Oscar and win over the WHOLE UNIVERSE. 

Anyway back to Divergent . The teenage girl at the centre of this tale is Beatrice.  Born into a world somewhere in the future where people are living in different camps, the aforementioned factions. On the surface there is freedom – when one comes of age one can change faction but it means leaving family behind forever and if you don’t quite succeed in the new faction then you are left a stray, Factionless, left to live a shadow of a life. The Factions are:  Erudite- The Intelligent, Dauntless  - The Brave , Amity - The Peaceful,  Candor - The Honest and Abnegation - The Selfless (or Stiffs as they are called for their pious ways and drab clothes). As they come of a certain age each person takes a test that helps him or her determine which camp they belong to, a bit like Harry Potter’s sorting hat, but not nearly as fun.  Born in boring old Abnegation, Beatrice takes her test and, well, I’m pretty sure it’s not a spoiler to say she turns out to be that pesky titular Divergent.  Advised to keep this on the lowdown or get killed Beatrice reinvents herself as Tris and boots off into the Dauntless camp, leaving her poor mum and dad behind with the other stiffs. A series of Parkour type challenges and ruthless beatdowns greet her. The Dauntless may be brave but there is also cruelty and arrogance here and Beatrice soon starts to wonder if she’s done right thing but this turns from bad to worse when she realises that she darker forces are planning to quash freedom and her life is very much at stake.

Shailene Woodley has been acting since she was in her mother’s womb or something like that and she’s perfectly good as Tris. She is very pretty and has nice hair. One does hope that in the later films we’ll see a bit more from her as the character develops. We shall reserve judgement. Theo James does well as the mysterious and handsome Four, Theo is one to watch, anyone that can play Guy Clinch (London Fields) and Four has versatility.  Other strong support comes from the wonderful Miles Teller whom we adore and Jai Courtney also excellent as bully Eric. Zoe Kravitz also a standout and has great chemistry with Woodley. Mekhi Pfeiffer is around but seems to just pop in and out to shout stuff from a balcony. Odd. Also odd is the fact that Ashley Judd looks younger than Shailene Woodley, in a strange, stretched skin kind of way. As for Ms Winslet. Well, let’s just say I don’t think Divergent is where she will finally get hold of that elusive Oscar. JLaw is going to win everything forever anyway.   

Obviously some things have to get left behind in a book adaptation and human relationship development is where the film falls down. At 140 minutes it is long but I still felt baffled by a few things and some important moments were given woefully small screen time. The motives of Kate Winslet’s Jeanine are still vague, the relationship between Four and Tris feels rushed which is a shame because they are good together and as for the poor old Ashley Judd as Tris’s mother…her story gets condensed into about 3 and half minutes. It’s just a shame because more time with the human elements and less time with the Dauntless initiation ceremonies and fight scenes would have made for a film with which the audience can connect with on a deeper level. However I doubt very much that will bother any of the teenagers that will go and see it. 

Its really not too bad Divergent if you just relax and take it for what it is. The more you examine it the more you see it doesn’t quite make the grade. However Neil Burger who has proven his substantial directing chops with The Illusionist and Limitless, has done a competent job directing. It really did suck me in sometimes and it even made me cry, but they may well have been tears of happiness at being in the cinema again. There are some nice cinematic ariel shots, the zip line initiation is really fun and the production and costume design are slick and well handled. Like all of these movies there are more instalments to come and they are filmed very much with this (and money) in mind. Divergent just about draws you in enough to want to see another one.  It’s obviously aimed squarely at the teenage market and will probably make a gazillion dollars at the box office. You know what, If it gives teenage girls another realistic, strong role model then I’m all for it, let’s just hope that’s what Tris develops into in the next instalments.  

Check out the trailer here.

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