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Movie Reviews

Young audiences can relate to the future-shock emotions of ‘Divergent’

Young audiences can relate to the  future-shock emotions of ‘Divergent’

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Neil Pond
American Profile
April 9, 2014
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Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James & Kate Winslet
Directed by Neal Burger
PG-13, 139 min.

This latest vision of a totalitarian, dystopian future comes by way of author Veronica Roth, whose popular young adult novels are now Hollywood’s latest hopes to cash in with the audience--and payday--of “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises.

“Divergent,” the first in Roth’s trilogy of best-sellers, centers on teenagers who are tested and sorted into one of five groups, or factions, when they turn 16. The classification locks them into irreversible courses to become selfless public servants; brainy scholars and scientists; pacifist farmers; warrior protectors; or truth-seeking lawmakers.

Born into the public-service group, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) “tests” with evidence of more than one faction: Uh-oh, she’s a “divergent,” and being more than one thing is considered bad--and dangerous. She’s a mutation that threatens the social order.

Beatrice bucks her test results, gives a parting glance to her crestfallen mom (Ashley Judd) and runs off (literally) to join the fearless “warrior” group, Dauntless. She shortens her name to Tris and falls for her mentor/instructor, Four (Theo James), who becomes her partner in uncovering a diabolical scheme by the cold, calculating head of the intellectual Erudite group (Kate Winslet) that could spell doom for Tris and her kind.

It’s easy to see how this story has a built-in appeal to young audiences. Teenagers can certainly relate to its young characters leaving home, trying to figure out who they are, facing major decisions about their futures, and rebelling against forces conspiring to steer them places they may not want to go.

The plot is rather dense, often clumsy and clunky, and the whole thing could stand to be about 25 minutes shorter. Director Neal Burger can’t quite seem to get out from under the long shadow of “The Hunger Games,” which looms large.

But Woodley is delight to watch; her face can convey a spectrum of emotion--delight, bemusement, betrayal, regret--with only the slightest movement, a subtle shift in her eyes or a morph of her lips. She’s also now become a capable action-adventure star. The camera also loves James, and the romantic heat between the two of them will melt away a lot of the shortcomings in “Divergent” as far as its sizeable target audience is concerned.

“We need to keep moving,” says Four in the final scene, as he and Tris leap aboard a speeding train, heading toward the sun and tomorrow. Keep moving, indeed, and all aboard: The “Divergent” sequel, “Insurgent,” begins production in May.

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