Running Time: 2 hours and 19 minutes
As the world attempts to recover from the devastation of war, it is decided that in order to keep the peace, society will be divided into 5 factions. The factions are defined by their primary value: Abnegation values selfless sacrifice, Candor prizes the truth, Erudite craves knowledge, Amity believes in love and Dauntless favors bravery. Each faction has a clearly defined role in society and those who don’t belong to a faction are outcasts. When Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) come of age, they are sent to be tested to find out what faction they belong to. Tris’ test is inconclusive, and it is revealed that she is Divergent. Divergents are those who possess the qualities of multiple factions and they are considered to be highly dangerous to society because they don’t fit into the faction system. Tris is urged to hide her true nature for her own safety and when it is time to choose her new faction, she decides to leave her family behind and join Dauntless. At Dauntless she is thrown into a cutthroat and punishing training program lead by the stern commander Four (Theo James). But even if Tris survives the Dauntless training, she may not survive the government finding out that she is Divergent.
These days in film, TV and books there are a few tropes more well-worn that the post-apocalyptic or dystopian future. In order to distinguish itself from the glut of like ideas, a story has to be strong and the hero or heroine needs to be compelling. Where Divergent succeeds is that Tris is a great center for the story, in particular because of how she is played by Shailene Woodley. Tris is flawed and relatable but she embodies the qualities that you wish you had. She is kind and thoughtful, but also bold and resolute. While there are aspects of the story that don’t get explained well enough (probably explored in more depth in the book) you are able to follow the plot.
Ultimately Divergent hinges on the evolution of Tris and her relationship with Four. James and Woodley are well-suited to their characters and to each other as they let the heat between the two of them to be raised gradually and purposefully. The other feature of the film that pops is the fact that it is set in the ruins of Chicago. As you see the landscape look both familiar and alien at the same time, you can allow yourself to imagine the aftermath of a devastating conflict. While I easily found so much to like about Divergent, I just wasn’t able to love it due to the fact that I didn’t get enough story for my tastes. The film never clearly defines the motivations of its villains, which keeps you from fearing or understanding them. Without that understanding it was difficult for me to be carried away by the movie. There are sequels coming, so I may have to dive into the books for the clarity that the film didn’t give me. For that reason, Divergent doesn’t quite take the step up from pretty good to great. B
Unlike Scott, I have read Divergent. It has been about three years since I read the novel, and I think this is the perfect gap between reading a book and seeing the movie. I wasn't bogged down with the minutia that was left out of the movie, and I was just reminded of my favorite parts. I know die-hard fans of the book will be upset that some critical sequences were changed, but I thought the changes worked for the general movie going crowd in order to advance the story.
The strength of this film was Woodley. Woodley makes Tris feels like a real person--not just on the screen, but off it as well. The relationship between Tris and Four had lots of natural chemistry. James is so ridiculously good looking, that he makes it almost too easy for Tris to fall for him. This isn't a bad thing, but I was glad to see that his acting was just as strong as his looks.
I enjoyed the film, but felt that there was more backstory, and secondary character development needed to get me to completely connect to it. B