A DIFFERENT BREED: Woodley (as Tris) and James (as Four) in the Neil Burger-directed film.
The action-adventure drama Divergent, based on the Veronica Roth bestseller, is set in alternate realm that's all about control, class and that all-important sense of belonging. That means you dare not let a soul find out you're a "divergent," a denizen who, by virtue of birth, defies categorization in all of the five factions (Erudite, Dauntless, ect.) Living openly as a divergent is unheard of and courting exposure can mean risking your life. The powers that be (including Kate Winslet giving her best ice-queen-meets-iron-lady impersonation) are on a mission to eliminate every living 'threat.'
Unsurprising then that, upon discovering that she's one of those rare birds who transcend the factions, young Tris (The Descendants' Shailene Woodley in the female lead) must do everything in her capabilities to keep the truth about herself hidden, in a place where the cold idea of "faction over blood" can't be stressed strongly enough.
Even as it paints a vividly compelling portrait of the steep cost of outsiderdom, Divergent delivers unmistakable echoes of The Hunger Games, in its unflimching depiction of a heroine worth rooting for, survival in the face of insurmountable odds, and a dystopian society governed by a ruthless intelligentsia.
Woodley, superb as the headstrong Tris, heads an accomplished cast that includes supporting roles for Ashley Judd and Scandal's Tony Goldwyn as Tris' good-natured parents; rising actor Ansel Elgort (Carrie) as her wayward brother; and Theo James as a tightly wound big-brother type who ends up taking Tris under his wing.
With 2006's crowd-pleasing Ed Norton thriller The Illusionist, director Neil Burger showed a deftness for ratcheting up suspense and dramatic intensity, while eliciting strong performances from his actors. Though Divergent by no means knocks it out of the park (the film's pacing occasionally sags), it draws you in with coolly surprising plot twists, committed performances, and an absorbing tale of misfits trying to find their place in the world. Tyrone's Verdict: B