Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Review - Divergent

There is plenty about the premise that poses more questions than this film provides answers. First, we see the city of Chicago in ruins and the whole place is surrounded by a large fence that looks like the fence that was meant to keep the T-rex at bay in Jurassic Park. Shailene Woodley stars as Beatrice Prior, a teenage girl who asks what's beyond the fence and no definitive answer is given. Beatrice's opening narration speaks of a war, but no information about the war, whom it was against, what was at stake, how long it lasted or why it even stopped was properly conveyed. Apparently, peace was brokered, but at the expense that everyone in Chicago having to conform to a caste system or these strange, social divisions.

People are divided into groups based on their personalities or specific personality traits. The question is why. The five groups or factions are Amity - the Peaceful, Erudite - the Intelligent, Candor - the Honest, Dauntless - the Brave and Abnegation - the Selfless. The way the movie visualizes the five is as follows. The Erudite is a shot of a bunch of scientists in a lab. The Amity is a bunch of farmers. The Candor is a bunch of lawyers. The Dauntless is a bunch of soldiers and the Abnegation is a bunch of social workers or charity-givers.

Children are obviously born in these various factions, but at a certain age, they have to take a test, a neurochemical test, which determines the faction they belong. It's basically a well-tuned, aptitude test, but Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet, a leader of the Erudite faction, claims the test doesn't matter and that teenagers are free to choose which faction they will forever belong. If the test doesn't matter, then why take it?

Yet, Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor's script, based on the novel by Veronica Roth, never explains why these factions truly matter or why being a part of them is vital. Jeanine insists it keeps the peace, but how? Everyone has adopted this caste system for some arbitrary reason and rigidly adhere to it for no logical purpose. Why are dividing people by their personalities or job professions necessary?

Beatrice is told that she's a "divergent." A divergent is someone whose aptitude test says they can't be classified as belonging to one faction. She's warned that divergents are killed because they can't be controlled. Yet, that rumor is totally contradicted by the end, so if the powers-that-be hadn't made such a huge fuss, or over-reacted, the divergents wouldn't have been a problem.

Beatrice is basically absorbed into this warrior / military culture where she's trained to fight and not have fear and follow orders. While she strives to fit into this culture, she also develops feelings for one of her trainers, a hunk of a pretty boy named "Four," played by Theo James. His tough love though eventually turns to love love.

Yet, Four is not as tough as Eric, played by Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher and A Good Day to Die Hard). Eric leads the charge to turn all members of Dauntless faction into mindless, unfeeling drones who are only good for killing. In her heart, Beatrice resists this charge, which leads her to have to fight the Dauntless faction.

What struck me is when actually thrown into battle, the casualties mean something and they mean something to Beatrice. When she has to fire at an actual person and possibly kill him, she does what we would hope any compassionate human being would do, even when his or her back is against a wall. I often feel as though that kind of compassion is lost in action films.

However, others have already commented on the fact this film is derivative of The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter films and possibly Twilight. I was also reminded of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Christopher Nolan's Inception. There was even a sequence that felt ripped from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

I can't argue against those things, but this movie did for me what several things thus far haven't been able to do. A lot of people fell in love with Shailene Woodley when she was in the TV series The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Others fell in love with her in movies, such as The Descendants (2011) and The Spectacular Now (2013), but not me. I was never truly taken with her. While I thought she was a good actress, I could do without her.

Yet, this film changes all that. This film actually made me fall in love her. Woodley is particularly good in the latter half. I was fully invested in her. I was with her every step of the way. I believed her and believed in her. I especially liked all her scenes with Ashley Judd who plays her mother. Those scenes are strong but Woodley is strong in them, particularly the final one between her and Judd.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 19 mins.

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