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Divergent – film review

April 9, 2014


An engaging ode to non-conformity.

Reviewed on Tuesday 1st April 2014

divergent - ferris wheel

Directed by Neil Burger. Screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel by Veronica Roth. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz and Kate Winslet. Running time: 139 mins.

In a walled future society where citizens are divided into factions based on their personality types, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior discovers she has aspects of more than one faction, including ‘Dauntless’ – the faction tasked with policing the city. Joining Dauntless, Tris struggles through basic training where she uncovers a plot by one     of the other factions to stage a coup; using a mind-controlled Dauntless to overthrow the ruling faction and take control of the city.

Unfairly dismissed in some quarters as being nothing more than a cynical grab for cash in the ‘young-adult-dystopian-future-sweepstakes’ – not to mention a cash-in riding on the coat tails of the hugely successful Hunger Games franchise; Neil Burger’s Divergent is an engaging film with merits of its own which deserves respectful consideration without comparison to what has come before.

Essentially a futuristic boot camp movie; structurally it plays like a genre take on Full Metal Jacket – in the sense that the first and second acts are concerned mainly with the training of characters as fearless drones – which is then put into practice in the final act. There is even a key scene where one of the characters tops themselves halfway through.

Shailene Woodley is on-camera for virtually the entire run-time and she does really well in carrying the film – bringing a natural and appealing girl-next-door quality to the role of Tris. Her transition from wallflower to kickass heroine is nicely handled. Theo James is also nicely cast as her love interest, Four, and the chemistry between them is clearly apparent. Kate Winslet also makes an appearance as Jeanine, leader of the Erudite faction – someone who appears to have Tris’ best interests at heart, but later reveals herself to be something else entirely.

divergent-shailene woodley

The action is well-staged and directed with precision by Neil Burger; the stand-out being a thrilling night-time sequence where Tris traverses the Chicago cityscape harnessed beneath a flying fox. The Chicago environs are effectively rendered in     CG – recalling images (especially at night) of a left-in-ruins city of New York in     John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Divergent is also a gorgeous-looking film with the slickly-shot cinematography by Hanna lenser Alwin H. Küchler providing a classy sheen. The editing by Richard Francis-Bruce (Dead Calm, Se7en) and Nancy Richardson is pacey and smooth – thankfully eschewing the ADHD editing style which is quickly losing favor with audiences it seems. And the driving electronic score by ambient drum and bass artist Junkie XL is a terrific fit – a daring choice which works remarkably well; very reminiscent incidently of the Chemical Brothers’ score for the aforementioned Hanna.

At its heart, this is very much a film which encourages young people to embrace their individuality and forge their own path away from the herd. In a series of nightmarish drug-induced psychiatric tests it is revealed that Tris is ‘Divergent’ – meaning that she is one of the few people in this future society capable of independent thought (and versatility) and is therefore less likely to conform to the societal norm (and virtually impossible to control by the powers that be) – ultimately becoming a     potential threat to those in power. It’s so great to see a movie for young people     with such a strong and positive message – that non-conformity creates progression and is something to be admired. As Divergent is the first in a trilogy of novels, it     will be interesting to see if the film is successful enough to warrant adaptation of     the sequels.

So is Divergent (the film) any better or worse than The Hunger Games? I have no idea. Then again, what benefit is there to be gained by comparing them anyway?

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, April 1st 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. Great review! I’ve been seeing some negative reviews so wasn’t sure if I was going to go see this or not… I do like a bit of YA fiction with girls as leads, though (yes, I read & love The Hunger Games but I’ve not read these) so this does look like something I’d enjoy. Glad your review is more positive than others – I’ll definitely try to see this now. : )

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks! Yeah, we don’t get too many genre films like this with strong female leads, so I try my best to greet them with a certain degree of positivity. And this one is definitely worth seeing and supporting. I look forward to your thoughts! 🙂

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