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'Divergent' converges with genre conventions

By Laura Traister
On March 23, 2014

The latest film in the ever-increasingly popular genre of young adult dystopian fiction, "Divergent" is predictable but well-acted enough to be engaging.
The film, based on the first book of Veronica Roth's bestselling young adult trilogy, takes readers into the not-so-distant future of the United States to a highly structured society that is divided into five factions. Each faction represents a virtue-selflessness, honesty, peacefulness, intelligence and bravery.
The movie opens as Tris Prior and other teenagers take an aptitude test that is supposed to tell them which faction would most suit them.
Feeling out of place in Abnegation, the selfless faction in which she was raised, Tris hopes that the test will help her decide which faction to choose.
She is distressed when the test results are inconclusive; she can be labeled only as "Divergent," unable to be categorized into the society's system of factions.
She must still choose a faction, though, and at the Choosing Ceremony the next day she chooses to join Dauntless, the daring faction made up of warriors and adrenaline junkies.
As Tris fights to become accepted by her chosen faction, she must compete with other initiates to make the cut or else become factionless, an outcast of society.  
As she learns to face her fears and builds new relationships, particularly with her mysterious training leader known only as Four, Tris discovers secrets about the factions that have dire implications not only for her, but for the people she loves.
With a running time of two hours and twenty minutes, "Divergent" risks either boring or overwhelming viewers. The film devotes too much time to action sequences at the expense of character and relationship development.
Tris is well-developed, but some other characters, particularly Tris's fellow initiates, lack depth.
Some of the initiates are so one-dimensional that they are difficult to distinguish from one another.
22-year-old Shailene Woodley as Tris is believable and relatable.
She is able to portray a strong and intense character without losing her humanity and vulnerability.
Woodley effectively communicates a wide range of intense emotions onscreen.
Theo James plays Four and successfully captures his aloofness but also his underlying kindness.
James and Woodley have great chemistry on screen as they explore a budding romance with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.
Jeanine Matthew is another interesting character, played well by Kate Winslet.
The leader of the Erudite faction, Jeanine initially seems friendly, if somewhat intimidating. However, she is a complex character who quickly becomes vital to the film's plot. Winslet acts with an authority and controlled brutality that brings depth to the character.
Aside from solid acting, the film has a few visually impressive moments.
One memorable scene shows Tris zip lining through the city as she experiences a thrilling ride.
The book series as well as the movie have been constantly compared to the hugely successful "Hunger Games" franchise, as well as other popular young adult dystopian fiction.
While "Divergent" introduces some intriguing characters and societal structures, it lacks originality to truly distinguish it from other genre pieces.
Fans of the book will find changes in the film adaptation but should be satisfied that the integrity of the book was generally maintained.
For those who know nothing about the story before walking into the movie theater, voice-over narration at the beginning of the film is helpful, if a bit intrusive. The plot is pretty easy to follow until the ending, which seems hurried and unclear.
Overall, "Divergent" is a book-to-movie adaptation that will likely please many viewers, especially fans of the novels and of dystopian fiction in general. I just wish it had diverged more from the genre's tired conventions.

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