No diverging from the text: Kate Winslet and Theo James in Divergent
Film Title: Divergent
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney
Running Time: 139 min
The last time we checked, faithfulness was still seen as a virtue in life. The concept has, so far as we are aware, not yet been excised from hymns, prayers and catechisms. Yet (as we are sick of saying) fidelity to the text has been the undoing of far too many contemporary big-screen adaptations.
Veronica Roth’s Divergent novels have much to recommend them. The central dystopian concept is easily digestible and thematically fecund: in the future, humans are broken up into sects defined by their key personality traits. The heroine, Tris Prior, is gutsy and independently minded.
None of this, however, justifies the rigour that has gone into this slick but sluggish translation. It’s a good book, but it’s not the Bible. Heck, the makers of this week’s Noah took more liberties, and they actually were adapting the Bible.
The picture begins with Tris facing up to a firm ritual in a future, post-war society. Almost everybody belongs to a caste whose title defines his or her nature: Candor are truthful, Erudite are intelligent, Dauntless are brave and so forth.
At a certain age, a test is administered to determine one’s faction, but the young person is still free to join whichever group he or she desires. After some ambiguous results, Tris, raised piously within Abnegation, opts for the violent, competitive Dauntless.
Like so many YA fictions, Divergent, for all its arguments in favour of self-expression, is obsessed with cliques, gangs and cadres. Shailene Woodley progresses convincingly from frailty to aggression. The designers do decent work with weird collars and post- Logan’s Run jumpsuits. Kate Winslet is convincingly angry as an Erudite superior who appears to have modelled her look on high-era Greer Garson.
Unfortunately, the slavish adaptation has saddled us with a 139-minute film that soaks up most of its duration with training rituals, administrative details and the enactment of futuristic rites. Had the writers worked up the courage to strip away that fat, they could have delivered a nifty thriller coiled around a touching romance.
Veronica Roth loyalists may be delighted. Most everyone else will be aching for the credits.