Top positive review
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Excellent adaptation but those who haven't read the book will enjoy it, too.
on March 22, 2014
"Divergent" will inevitably be compared by many to that other YA book series, "Hunger Games." And while both books have strong young heroines, the books and movies are actually quite different. See the movie and judge for yourself. I went to see it with my family, but the theater had audiences of all ages - from older 40-50 something couples, to groups of high school-college friends, to middle schoolers with their friends or families. I would recommend this to the same audience that went to see "Hunger Games" - PG-13 and up.
For those not familiar with Veronica Roth's book, "Divergent" is the story of Beatrice (Tris) Prior, a young lady living in futuristic Chicago. Due to post-war effects, their society is divided into 5 factions that represent 5 virtues - Abnegation (selflessness/service to others), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace) and Erudite (knowledge/learning). Those who do not belong to a faction (basically, ostracized from society) are called "factionless." When they come of age, they attend a ceremony to select the faction they will join for the rest of their lives. Most choose the faction they are born in, while others may "defect." During the pre-ceremony aptitude test, Beatrice is told that her test results were "inconclusive", meaning she doesn't see to belong to a specific group. They call this "Divergent." Their society views "Divergents" as dangerous so Beatrice must keep this secret to protect her life. When she chooses her faction, she meets her new mentor and trainer Four and the brutal Eric and forms friendships with other new initiates Christina, Will and Al. The physical and mental training (think "boot camp") is intensive and challenging and Tris needs to find a way to survive. She eventually finds an ally in Four, who isn't quite what he seems.
The movie does a great job introducing the faction-based society to audiences, so you don't need to have read the book to enjoy or understand the plot. Having read the book, I would say I am very satisfied with the casting choices and the outcome of the film. I would consider this a faithful adaptation to the book - some scenes were excised due to time constraints and/or continuity/flow, but this is understandable if you take into account the differences between the book vs. film medium.
In terms of casting, I admit I was skeptical about Shailene Woodley (Tris) at first. Physically, she doesn't quite match up to book Tris (who is supposed to be small and waif-ish). But Shailene has the ability to take on this role of a vulnerable and conflicted young woman at the beginning of the film who grows in strength and confidence as the story goes on. Some would say that Theo James is much older than his book counterpart, but I can clearly see why he was chosen to play the complex Four. Theo plays Four with quiet strength and charisma - he is an imposing authority figure, but there is some vulnerability a well. He won me over from the first scene and he and Shailene have an undeniable chemistry. Kate Winslet (Jeanine Matthews), Jai Courtney (Eric) and Miles Teller (Peter) are also stand-outs. The remaining main supporting cast are Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd (Tris' parents), Ansel Elgort (Caleb - Tris' brother), Ray Stevenson (Marcus Eaton) and Tris' fellow initiates Zoe Kravitz (Christina), Ben Lloyd Hughes (Will) and Christian Madsen (Al). They capture the essence of their book counterparts very well and, while they are currently relative unknowns, I can see bright futures for the young cast. (And, yes, girls and boys, whether intentional or not, there is a lot of "eye candy" in this movie. I get it. Even Jai Courtney's Eric looks good in a dangerous/tough guy sort of way). Four is my favorite character in the book series and I am pleased to see that Theo James more than lives up to expectations.
The film was shot in Chicago so the filmmakers had to perform some digital magic to make it look and feel like a post-war, dystopian society. Costumes and sets all look spot on. It all works. Director Neil Burger injects pace, energy and a sense of foreboding and danger to the film. As soon as Tris leaves her faction, the action kicks off. There are lots of fight scenes between the initiates and among various characters, and yes, there is violence akin to what you would see in the "Hunger Games" series. There is also a budding romance - and while it is not as heavy a focus as it is in the books, it is equally satisfying.
As a big fan of the first 2 books ("Divergent" and "Insurgent"), I was very satisfied with the outcome. So many books out there get ripped to shreds by the time they make it to film, so I am glad to see that the screenwriters were very diligent in capturing the essence of this dystopian world and the characters that we love so much, and did not feel the need to change the story drastically. The plot follows that of the book and several key scenes are intact (albeit shorter and more compact) - whatever changes are made are relatively minor in comparison. The main characters are there, and there are more minor characters that may have been excised or will make an appearance in the next film. We hope this movie does well enough so that "Insurgent" is made, because that follow-up brings us more dimension to the story and fleshes out the role of these characters. For example, Marcus Eaton, Jeanine Matthews, Caleb, Peter and the Candor, Amity and Erudite factions, and Four's background are expanded more in the second book and new characters will be introduced.
My family and I came out of this film having a few discussions afterwards. Overall the reaction was very positive and we all enjoyed it immensely, so much so that we are all planning to see it again. I would highly recommend this movie not just to the book fans, but those who enjoy futuristic, dystopian films. Young and adult alike in my household enjoyed this film so it works for a broad range of audiences.