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 A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo

Neil Burger’s Divergent, the first of the confirmed trilogy by author Veronica Ross, is adamant on playing it safe by using two of the most trending selling points in films today: future dystopia and a gutsy female lead.

However, despite being born from the same idea pool, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is no Katniss Everdeen, and Divergent is no Hunger Games.

The background

Future Chicago is war-torn and socially divided. Its people are forced, in a strictly governed democratic way, to choose one of five distinct, color coded factions that make up its social system.

The selfless go to Abnegation; Amity are peaceful and hardworking; Candor, who look like lawyers, are the truthful; Erudite are intelligent; and Dauntless are the brave ones.

 A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo

Tris is from Abnegation, but is in awe of Dauntless. She, however, is a Divergent – someone who can be a part of any class – and that makes her a threat to this future’s social set-up, where family comes after factions. Tris is told to meekly join Abnegation in the factions choosing ceremony, but she decides to join Dauntless.

While a conspiracy brews in the background, Tris, and the other fresh “initiates”, are tested physically and psychologically by their unsympathetic teachers Eric (Jai Courtney) and Four (Theo James), for a good amount of the movie’s running time.

From bad to worse

For a movie targeting young-adults, and especially the female demographic, Divergent is pretty compliant – a characteristic it shares with Tris.

Woodley, who has done excellent work in The Descendants, has a captivating screen aura, which helps sustain a decent balance of severity in Divergent. Regrettably, given the limited confines of her character, and the uneventful story reveals, she feels like a delicate, ill-fitting cog in a high-priced machine that wants her to kick-butt like a super-heroine while sustaining a feeling of fragility, making it look like a sad combination on screen.

 A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo

Even Woodley’s imminent romance with James – one of the selling points of Divergent – is spark-less. And Kate Winslet, who plays Jeanine an Erudite leader, reminds one of Jodie Foster from Elysium – a fine actress demoted to pitiless, clichéd, playacting.

Director Neil Burger, who made an excellent impression in Limitless, is as awkward as Woodley, concentrating either on whooshing camera angles, or stoic scenes of conversation held mostly in the bunker-esque production design by Andy Nicholson (“Gravity”).

 A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Divergent". – Courtesy Photo

As always, future dystopia, even with its technological advancements, looks bleak and minimalist. The railways function well (the speeding trains are a character themselves), but the emotionless social structure in Divergent has a faux ambiance to it.

The final word

There seems to be serious disconnect in Divergent’s screenplay. The stereotypes in Tris, Four and the others, are at times obviously broad-stroked, and the gravity of being born a Divergent – or why they pose such an imminent threat to society – is never explained with conviction.

In a word: disappointing.

Released by Summit Entertainment, “Divergent” is rated PG-13 for scenes of action, dystopian drama.

Directed by Neil Burger; Produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Pouya Shahbazian; Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor (based on the book by Veronica Roth); Cinematography by Alwin Küchler; Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce and Nancy Richardson; Music by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer; Production Design by Andy Nicholson.

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer and Kate Winslet.