In a future world, war has been erased along with individuality and freedom.
Veronica Roth’s 2011 novel Divergent presents a world where the population is split into five factions representing virtues like selflessness and intelligence. When one young woman doesn’t conform, she threatens to break the system. She is Divergent.
Forget the young adult tag for the moment, it’s a really decent book filled with strong characters that don’t conform to stereotypes and an engaging sci-fi world that’s a little different from what we’ve come to expect. And, thankfully, the movie version follows suit.
Gifted with a boosted $80 million budget in the wake of the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent brings in Limitless director Neil Burger (read our interview) as well as a host of youthful talent like Shailene Woodley (read our interview), Miles Teller and Theo James.
Woodley may still mostly be known for her indie efforts but she’s just about perfect as Tris Prior. From conflicted beginnings she turns into a feisty heroine, capable of her own action and possessed of an unusually complex and almost believable love story with the handsome Theo James. He’s also better than expected, partly down to a script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor which isn’t afraid to be witty, snarky and often very dark.
Roth has become known as an author who feels no qualms about killing off major characters – actions have consequences – and the movie doesn’t shy away from it either. While the on screen elements have been censored to some degree, a level of intensity remains that might surprise viewers.
Tweaks from the book are significant but mostly well handled, though some characters like Teller’s Peter feel less developed because of them. The film runs almost 140 minutes but I personally thought it was really well paced, moving swiftly from training to character development and final crisis.
Director Burger has never helmed a film of this size before but performs admirably, especially given the accelerated 18 month schedule he was under. The world feels speculative but lived in, each location is unique and details like the clothes and underlying qualities of the different factions can be seen in every frame. Some of the bigger moments are a little chaotic and the seams can show in the larger effects shots but overall it’s an impressive achievement.
Fans of the book will be pleased with this slick adaptation while unfamiliar audiences might be surprised by just how entertaining it is. Well worth a look – expect sequel Insurgent to in March 2015.
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