Directed by: Neil Burger

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, and Kate Winslet

Another young adult book series has been given the big screen treatment.  With the success of The Hunger Games, the Twilight series and Harry Potter, studios are constantly searching for the next big thing.  Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures are two recent unsuccessful adaptation attempts that come to mind.  While Veronica Roth’s Divergent is not necessarily on the level of The Hunger Games, it is a strong enough debut to leave me wanting more.

In the year 2164, the world has been torn apart by war.  In Chicago, one society remains, fenced off from the rest of the world.  The new society is divided by a “caste system” or factions.  Citizens with similar personality types are grouped to live and work together.  The ruling faction is Abnegation, comprised of people who are selfless and always put the needs of others first.  Amity is the “kind” faction.  They are responsible for farming.  The Erudite faction includes those with high intelligence. Candor is the faction that is honest to a fault, and they oversee the justice system.  Finally, Dauntless people are brave and fearless.  As such, they are the security force.  People who are not accepted into a faction are homeless and left in the streets.

Beatrice or “Tris” (Shailene Woodley) was born into Abnegation.  Her mother Natalie (Ashley Judd) and father Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) have raised Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) to be selfless and help others. However, Tris is struggling with fitting in, and she longs to explore all of the facets of her personality.  This is particularly true because Tris and Caleb are on the verge of taking a test to determine their true faction.  After they take the test, they must make the decision which faction they will join for the rest of their lives.  They can remain with their parents in Abnegation, or choose one of the other factions.  The decision is weighty because once a person chooses a faction, he or she must place faction before blood or family.

Tris takes her test, which involves a series of mind games which test a person’s instinct, intellect, and response to fear.  Tris’s test results are inconclusive because she is Divergent.  She is kind, selfless, dauntless, intelligent and honest.  She does not fit neatly into a box.  Tris is advised to hide her test results and never tell anyone that she is divergent.  Society, in particular Erudite, is fearful of anyone that cannot fit neatly into a faction and is on a quest to kill all divergents.  Tris hides her results and when it is time to select her faction, much to her parent’s dismay, she chooses Dauntless.  

Dauntless presents its own set of challenges, however, as Dauntless thrives on high risk jumps from moving trains, buildings and other death defying stunts.  Moreover, Dauntless does not just accept new members.  New initiates are put through several grueling rounds of fighting, shooting, and other challenges.  Anyone ranked at the bottom will be cut, and tossed into the streets without a faction. While at Dauntless, Tris does meet some new friends like Christina (Zoe Kravitz).  In addition, her training leader Four (Theo James) is incredibly attractive, and ultimately warms up to Tris.  However, as political games are played and the leader of Erudite, Jeanine (Kate Winslet), makes a power grab, Tris’s world is blown apart.

I must confess that I have not read the Divergent book series, and I am hanging my head in shame.  I love movies, but I am a firm believer that books are better than their film adaptation 99% percent of the time.  Writers can do so much more with the written word because books are without boundaries, whereas films are limited by budget constraints and technology.  Thus, I cannot advise as to how this film stacks up against the book.  What I can say, as a non-reader, I am intrigued enough by the characters and the premise of this dystopian society, that I am downloading Insurgent on my iPad tonight so that I can find out what happens next.

The cast of Divergent is stellar.  Shailene Woodley delivers a strong performance as the heroine and lead in Divergent.  She is tough, passionate, and smart, and delivers a great performance.  Kate Winslet is intelligent, evil power at its best.  I was intrigued by her character and her performance. While Winslet’s character is critical to the film, she does not have a significant amount of screen time. I hope that we will get to see more of her in the sequel.  Theo James, Ashley Judd and others also turn in solid performances.

The film’s themes are familiar in that a young heroine refuses to conform to society’s expectations and wants to take control of her own destiny as she battles against a controlling, all powerful government. Additionally, there is plenty of action to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.  The film does falter in a couple of areas.  As with all adaptations, filmmakers must struggle with staying true to the content of the book, but not becoming so cumbersome that non-readers will be lost or lose interest.  Divergent walks the line and at some point becomes a little too long.  While I found the back story and build up interesting, at some point I started to check my watch.  Moreover, fresh off the heels of the amazing Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, Divergent suffers by comparison.  Both films involve strong young female leads in a dystopian society set in the future and involve similar social commentary; so the inclination to compare the two series is natural.   Unfortunately, Woodley is not quite Jennifer Lawrence and Divergent is not on the same level as The Hunger Games.

With that being said, the premise and characters in Divergent are interesting enough to make this a solid start for the new series.  So where does Divergent fall within the young adult film genre? Divergent is not as good as The Hunger Games, but much better than Twilight.  Divergent earns a 0.06% rating.  If you are over twenty-one, grab a beer with this one.