dir Neil Burger
scr Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor
prd Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shabazian, Douglas Wick
with Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q
release US 21.Mar.14, UK 4.Apr.14
14/US Summit 2h19
Becoming Dauntless: James and Woodley

winslet courtney judd

See also:
Insurgent (2015) Allegiant (2016)

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Divergent Based on the first in Veronica Roth's trilogy of novels, there's a whiff of Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games about this tale of an unusually talented young person in a over-controlled society. But director Burger never quite breaks the surface of the plot, so it's entertaining but never more than that.

In post-war Chicago, Tris (Woodley) was born in the charitable Abnegation faction, but tests reveal that she's actually divergent, a cross-faction personality that threatens the leaders. When the time comes to choose, she leaves her parents (Judd and Goldwyn) to join the warriors in Dauntless, entering a gruelling training regime overseen by hunky Four (James) and cruel Eric (Courtney). Meanwhile, the leader of brainy Erudite, Jeanine (Winslet), is plotting to take over the government she believes her faction should be running. The peaceful Amity and honest Candor groups seem unaware of all of this.

Yes, this saga's mythology is slightly over-constructed. This wouldn't be a problem if the focus was more squarely on the characters, but the film's first hour is essentially pure back-story, setting the scene for something interesting to happen. Thankfully, everything snaps into focus for the final act, giving fine actors like Woodley and Winslet meaty scenes to chew on (it's especially nice to see Winslet in a shady role). Judd also gets some strong scenes.

Intriguingly, the men who have the less interesting roles for a change. James comes on-screen with such muscly physicality and caring eyes that we instantly know he's the token love interest. While Courtney's aggressive piercings and tattoos and Teller's sarcasm signpost them as obviously less sympathetic. As things progress, we begin to sense who the important figures are going forward, even if we haven't read the books, simply because they have a hint of complexity about them.

With this setting and structure, this story is ripe for all kinds of thematic depth, but Burger has always struggled to find the subtext in his films (Limitless got closest). Here his main effort seems to have gone into creating a startlingly realistic future, and the effects are impressively seamless, with strong action beats and a couple of whizzy adrenaline-charged sequences. But by ignoring the overriding themes, Burger leaves the film feeling superficial and rather pointless.

cert 12 themes, language, strong violence 19.Mar.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall