Sunday, 27 July 2014

Divergent (12A) | Film Review

Divergent, dir. Neil Burger, scr. Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth, st. Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Zoƫ Kravitz, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney

Neil Burger's previous effort, the Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless, may have peddled the old ten per cent brain use limit chestnut (both as the film's concept and as commentary on how to approach the movie as an audience member), but at least it provided us with something of a sensory overload that was commensurate with the film's thematics. Here, Divergent, based on the highly popular young adult fiction series by Veronica Roth, should in theory hold infinite more storytelling potential in its depiction of a future society segregated and categorised. There's certainly an engaging and prevalent core idea that concerns adolescents having to choose once and once only what sociological camp to set up in - Abnegation that houses the civil servants, Amity the charity workers, Candor the lawmakers, Dauntless the soldiers, and Erudite the scientists. Students have enough trouble choosing their GCSE and A Level subjects - imagine if what they chose at that age irrevocably determined their life path. Yet there's precious little plot on offer and even less of a commitment to decent storytelling, which is particularly galling given the film's near two and a half hour running time. It's seventy minutes before we encounter any kind of meaningful narrative, the first half of the movie primarily concerning itself with much first-day-at-school soul searching.

Woodley, currently accumulating plaudits for her role in Josh Boone's The Fault in Our Stars, plays Beatrice Prior, the daughter of a high-ranking council member. Once of age, she is subjected to a mandatory aptitude test - a form of drug-induced lucid dreaming - which will reveal to the individual which social order they should be a part of, kind of like a dystopian Sorting Hat. Thereafter, a public Choosing Ceremony sees the kids choose their fate in front of their peers and family. They sever all ties, and begin their induction. Beatrice, now going under the slightly less bully-baiting Triss, joins Dauntless despite her aptitude test being inconclusive (labelling her the "divergent' of the title), a bunch of parkour-obssessed spring breakers who confuse making YouTube viral videos with character-building orientation. She soon uncovers a plot led by tropey ice-queen Jeaninine Matthews (Winslet) to turn the Dauntless into her own private army via a mind-controlling serum, and lead a coup against the Abnegation overthrowing the government. But this is where things really start to unravel and things stop making a whole heap of sense. Why, for example, is Triss' divergence such a threat to the status quo as we are frequently told? And what makes her different from the "factionless"- society's disenfranchised and homeless undesirables? And what about Matthews nefarious machinations - a plan so clumsy and unwieldy as to eliminate any credible sense of real menace? Many have compared the Divergent series akin to that other popular YAF-du-jour The Hunger Games, but that is to do a considerable disservice to Suzanne Collins' books. As flawed as Jennifer Lawrence's films are, they contain enough plausible threat and gravity to offer compelling drama of sorts, and Katniss embodies a spunky ambition and purpose that is sorely lacking in Triss. Divergent is supposed to be a chilling and persuasive suggestion of what a post-apocalyptic socio-political landscape might resemble, but ends up as anodyne and dead-eyed as the world it depicts.