Film review: Divergent (12A, 139 min)

They even hid Winslet’s baby bump...

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 3rd April 2014, 7:00 pm
Divergent: SHAILENE WOODLEY as Tris and THEO JAMES as Four
Divergent: SHAILENE WOODLEY as Tris and THEO JAMES as Four

Adapted from the opening book of Veronica Roth’s best-selling trilogy for young adults, Divergent is a rites of passage story baked to a similar recipe as The Hunger Games.

Neil Burger’s film separates a gung-ho heroine from the people she loves and compels her to undergo a series of gruelling challenges, killing fellow teenagers to ensure her survival.

Spookily, the running time of the two films is almost identical, although this dystopian fantasy earns its 12A certificate without spilling as much innocent blood.

Shailene Woodley, who was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe opposite George Clooney in The Descendants, is perfectly cast as the teenage protagonist, who leads the rebellion against a corrupt system. She is the beating heart of the slickly engineered film and effortlessly tugs heartstrings in pivotal scenes of loss.

A slow-burning romantic subplot ensures the target audience will swoon as the heroine suffers exquisite pangs of first love, while a tub-thumping denouement sets the scene for the next two instalments, Insurgent and Allegiant, released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Futuristic Chicago is divided into five factions – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – which exemplify positive aspects of the human personality: selflessness, cordiality, honesty, intelligence and courage.

On a specific day each year, 16-year-olds undergo an aptitude test that reveals their destiny.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is poised to take that test.

She lives in Abnegation with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and parents Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashley Judd) but questions where her future lies.

“Everyone knows where they belong, except for me...” she laments in voiceover.

The results of Beatrice’s test are inconclusive and Tori (Maggie Q), who administers the procedure behind closed doors, tells the 16-year-old that she is a Divergent.

Beatrice must hide her status because Divergents threaten the finely balanced system and are being hunted by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), strident leader of Erudite.

When the time comes to choose her destiny, Beatrice opts for Dauntless and so begins rigorous training under hunky instructor Four (Theo James).

Fellow newcomer Peter (Miles Teller) takes an immediate dislike to Beatrice and attempts to bully her out of Dauntless.

However, she is resilient and draws encouragement from three new friends, Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Al (Christian Madsen) and Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes).

Divergent feels a smidgen light on exposition and character development but Woodley is terrific and she catalyses smouldering on-screen chemistry with James.

Winslet sinks her pearly whites into her first villainous role, and director Burger obscures the actress’s baby bump – she was five months pregnant during filming – with an array of laptops and folders that becoming a running joke by the end credits.

Dutch music producer Junkie XL is an inspired choice to compose the soundtrack and provides the film a strong, electronic pulse that perfectly fits the futuristic setting.