Burger’s film too ‘Divergent’ to make an impact


By Karsten Burgstahler

It seems counterintuitive to be upset when a movie encourages viewers to go their own way but doesn’t perfectly reflect its own source material.

And yet, “Divergent” (Rated PG-13; 139 Min.) manages to loose the bite the book had by taking away its protagonist’s inner monologue. No amount of mind-created dogs she must face can replace that bark.

“Divergent” is the latest in a line of young adult adaptations hoping to cash in on the mega-success of “The Hunger Games,” which was really an attempt to cash in the mega-success of “Harry Potter.”


Our heroine Tris (“The Descendants”’ Shailene Woodley) lives in a futuristic Chicago where all people have been divided into five factions based on a test they take at the end of their schooling. The test requires them to complete tasks, including taking on the aforementioned dogs, in order to determine what quality they best exemplify. They can choose between abnegation (selflessness), dauntless (bravery), candor (honesty), erudite (intelligence) or amity (kindness). But Tris doesn’t fall into one of these categories and is considered divergent. It’s quickly established that being divergent can get a person killed, simply because divergents cannot be controlled.

Veronica Roth’s 2011 novel is written just like Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” novels, allowing readers into the head of the lead character as she tries to fit in in a world that constantly poses her danger. And when the film version of “Hunger Games” hit theaters many fans complained the movie lost the hero Katniss’ true emotions. But the move from first-person to thrird-preson storytelling that plagues “Divergent” does so to a greater extent than it did the adaptations of Collins’ books.In the book Tris struggles with her move from selflessness to accepting that, as a human being, she’s selfish. She gets satisfaction out of seeing someone else hurt and wrestles with her pleasure.

The problem lies with what moments, and what lines of dialogue, have been cut from the film version. Two screenwriters, Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, worked on the adaptation with consultation from Roth, and the few risks they take with the material don’t pay off. The book stands above its brethren through its historical allegories, none of which have been lost here. But their biggest mistake is giving viewers more closure than what was provided in the book’s third act — the book ends on a decidedly downbeat note, while the movie answers questions to create a more self-contained experience. It’s as if the studio was worried the franchise wouldn’t take off so they put an escape pod in the closing minutes.

Woodley puts off a vibe closer to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss than Kristen Stewart’s Bella, but that could be because the source material gives her more to work with. She still seems generic, a cog in the storytelling machine never given the chance to rise above her castmates, many of whom have seen their roles from the books diminished to mere cameos. Woodley has given better performances than this; her Golden Globe-nominated role in “The Descendants” is proof of her ability to give a stunning performance.

Woodley has actually expressed her desire to go back to indie films once the trilogy is over. Her resume shows a tendency to choose smaller films, and that’s where she shines.

“Divergent” doesn’t muster the same A-list cast Lionsgate was able to assemble for “The Hunger Games,” but Burger gets serviceable performances from his supporting cast, including Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd as Tris’ parents. As the evil Jeanine, Kate Winslet has fun with a role the screenwriters expanded from the book. But her character now resembles a more traditional villain than the scheming, scathing antagonist she was in the book.

Fans of the book won’t be disappointed in “Divergent,” but newcomers likely won’t understand what the buzz is about. As soon as the movie lost Tris’ inner turmoil it became too divergent for its own good.


2 ½ Stars

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254