Young heroine fights the system in a post-apocalyptic world – sounds familiar. Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Miles Teller and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet star in the best-seller adaptation, Divergent.
Cast of Characters:
Beatrice “Tris” Prior – Shailene Woodley
Tobias “Four” Eaton – Theo James
Natalie Prior – Ashley Judd
Eric – Jai Courtney
Marcus Eaton – Ray Stevenson
Christina – Zoe Kravitz
Peter – Miles Teller
Andrew Prior – Tony Goldwyn
Tori – Maggie Q
Jeanine Matthews – Kate Winslet
Director – Neil Burger
Screenplay – Evan Daugherty & Vanessa Taylor
Based on the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth
Producer – Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher & Pouya Shabazian
Rated PG-13 for for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
In the distant future, Chicago, wrecked by war, has been split into five factions: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave) and Erudite (intelligent). At a certain point, the teenagers will be required to take an aptitude test that determines which faction they belong in. However, they all, regardless of the results, are given an opportunity to choose their own faction. Once they choose, though, they can’t take it back, and if they don’t fit in to their faction, they can’t go back to their families. Instead, they become faction-less or “divergents”, who are deemed a threat to the system by Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet).
At the time Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), from Abnegation, is called to make her choice, she chooses Dauntless. The problem is that her test results came back inconclusive, making her divergent.
First, let me address the elephant in the room here: the Hunger Games comparisons. I haven’t read the Divergent series, but I’ve read The Hunger Games; even from a film standpoint Divergent is not like The Hunger Games, despite having similar settings.
Also, there’s a clear distinction in that The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were both highly entertaining. Divergent is a bland, one-note, 140 minute bore, lacking any emotional or character depth.
I’m not here to slight the book. The series may be amazing, and the filmmakers just dropped the ball. What’s difficult about adapting source material (I believe adapted screenplays are harder to write than original) to film is that you have to condense the story (that means keeping some elements and leaving others out) down to an average of 2 hours, while keeping the source’s fans happy and also drawing an interest in those that are unfamiliar with it. The story has an intriguing premise and setting, but every time the opportunity for an emotional impact arrives, we end up getting no payoff.
That’s primarily the fault of director Neil Burger, which I wouldn’t have expected. Burger doesn’t have an extensive directing filmography, but in the past has directed The Illusionist and Limitless, two films I enjoyed. Burger, along with screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, sets up moment after moment where it appears the stakes are being raised, only to frustrate the viewer with a dull conclusion to each moment that has them thinking, “Wait… That’s it?” Parents are shot dead in front of their children, and the issues of child abuse and suicide are raised, yet it’s never brought with the emotional punch that it needs.
Shailene Woodley is in the process of getting the young-adult heroine baton passed to her as Jennifer Lawrence finishes her time as Katniss Everdeen. There’s an instant likeability that Woodley brings to any character she portrays, and I can’t really fault her performance despite the unintentionally funny ending she has in the film (“No… I’m divergent!”). I can, however, fault the collection of young supporting talent (Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller among them), each playing an underdeveloped, cardboard sidekick to Tris that has no character traits distinguishable from the others. The only one that manages to standout is Miles Teller as the token cocky teen of the bunch (taking a step back from the typically fast-talking goofs he plays). Still, Teller hardly gets much to work with.
That’s the big letdown of this film. It doesn’t matter if I read the book or not. I see the opening credits display names like Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Ray Stevenson and Mekhi Phifer, I start thinking I’m gonna get to see some talent here. But, they’re all wasted in roles that do nothing other than just having them there. I understand we can’t get a big payoff since there’s more in the series yet to be filmed, and I hate to bring up Hunger Games here, but part of what made those films so memorable was that you had an equally talented cast (Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc.) bringing life to their respective characters and allowing them to be developed enough without making the film overblown. We don’t get that here, and with the cast and director involved, it shouldn’t be that way.
Who do work are Theo James and Jai Courtney with the sort of “good cop/bad cop” routine they got going. Jai Courtney has mostly been popping up in crap, and the fact that he’s in another bland, pointless film doesn’t change, but it’s really the first role I’ve seen of his that worked in spite of the film surrounding it. Theo James brings a tough yet calming presence to his character that’s also solid, even though the out of the blue romantic angle between him and Tris is about as thinly-written as it could get.
Speaking of wasted talented, as judge, jury and executioner of silverscreenfanatic-land, I deem this film’s biggest crime is my main gal Kate Winslet in such a horrendously one-note villain role. Although, I’ve become a fan of Woodley, Winslet was the main reason I wanted to see this and hearing that she was gonna get to sink her teeth into the role of a villain made it even better. They could’ve called this Twilight: Phase II (this film was one love triangle away from it anyway), and I still would’ve shown up at the front of the line. How the hell does Burger manage to shrink someone as talented as Winslet down into a one-dimensional, drab character? It’s Kate Winslet!! Her presence alone should do the work for you! I get she’s supposed to be a bureaucrat and not Darth Vader or flashy like the Joker, but there’s not a single intimidating or fear-striking moment out of her that you’d expect from the type of character she’s playing. She just goes through the motions and phones it in.
Seriously, Kate… Why?
From the looks of other reviews, fans of the novels will be pleased. I, having not read the books, found this to be a bland, lifeless effort with all the stock cardboard characters you get out of a young-adult story that did nothing to entice me to run home and read the books. That’s not to say the books are bad by any means, the translation from page to screen was. The performances aren’t bad, but the poor material they’re working with wastes their talent. Divergent is an intriguing premise, one that had me engaged at the beginning. By the end, it had me not caring whether the sequel Insurgent (due in March 2015) shows up or not.
I give Divergent a D+ (★½).