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Movie Review: Divergent (2014)


Solid acting and a riveting story make Divergent worth a watch.

I’d been looking forward to seeing the movie Divergent ever since I read Veronica Roth’s intriguing book by the same name. I watched the early trailers with rapt interest but also with a bit of trepidation. Shailene Woodley didn’t look anything like the short, awkward-faced, blond Beatrice I had envisioned while reading the book. The wardrobe and sets were quite a bit different from those in my imagination. I wondered if I would be able to truly enjoy the movie. And then I heard Veronica Roth, in an interview, talk about how the movie was an “interpretation” of her book, one that she was pleased with by the way. I decided to watch with an open mind.

Divergent tells the story of sixteen-year-old Beatrice “Tris” Prior who lives in a dystopian future world where peaceful society depends on people living in five different groups, called factions, that are determined by their personalities: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent), and Dauntless (brave). At sixteen-years-old, people must decide what faction they will live in for the rest of their lives. Once a choice is made, there is no turning back. To help them with their decision, sixteen-year-olds are given an aptitude test to determine their suitability for each of the five factions. Although they are encouraged to trust the test results, and most people decide to stay in the same faction as their families, the decision is theirs. Beatrice feels that she doesn’t fit in with her family’s faction, Abnegation. Her test results reveal that she actually does not fit with any single faction; that makes her Divergent. And in this world, being Divergent is dangerous.

After a few minutes of establishing shots, the movie opens the same way as the book does. Fancy lighting changes Woodley’s brown hair with highlights, to blond, if only for a minute, a nod to Roth’s description of Beatrice’s hair color in the first pages of the book. As the movie goes on, there are small departures from the book, but, when cutting down a 400-plus-page book into a movie, some departures are necessary. The only change that bothered me significantly was in Beatrice’s aptitude test. During that test, people are supposed to be run through a series of scenarios, each one ruling out or in one of the five factions. In the book, Beatrice is tested for all five factions. In the movie, only four are tested; Beatrice is never tested for suitability for Candor. Although this is ultimately unimportant as far as the story is concerned, because the aptitude test is so important in Beatrice’s decision, it would have been nice for it to have been performed properly.

Woodley, in the role of Tris, perfectly captures both Beatrice’s vulnerability and her toughness. Theo James, as Tris' love interest, Four, stole my heart the minute he appeared on the screen with his irresistible combination of strength and sensitivity. Throughout the movie, the chemistry between James and Woodley is electric, especially when Tris enters Four’s fear landscape (think immersive video game where you face your deepest fears as if they’re real); the intimacy that the two share is entrancing.

There are other standouts in the cast. Ashley Judd radiates strength and warmth as Tris’ mom, Natalie. Kate Winslet is sinister as Jeanine Matthews, a far cry from the sweet innocence she showed in Titanic. Maggie Q is enigmatic as Tris’ confidant, Tori. Roth herself makes a cameo in a scene where members of the Dauntless faction zipline off the roof of a skyscraper. Roth bursts through the rooftop door and then looks around with excitement, fitting right in with the rest of the cast.

Although the movie Divergent looked a bit different than I imagined it would, and, of course, there were some omissions and changes, I loved it! The acting was solid without exception, with Woodley and James stealing the show. The world was visually interesting, and the story, thanks to Roth, was riveting. It is rare that I want to reread a book or watch a movie more than once; when it comes to Divergent, I plan to do both!

Jen's grade:
A
Absolutely go see it!

Divergent
opens in theaters March 21, 2014.

Divergent  is rated PG-13.

Jen (California, USA)*

* Jen attended the premiere of Divergent as a guest.

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 Jen's review of the BLACK carpet premiere of
Divergent