I’ll take the dystopian future over fur and fangs any day. That is to say I was never a fan of the “Twilight” movies based on the best-selling young adult novels. Then along came “Hunger Games,” and so far those have been more interesting. Now on its heels comes another series of movie-ready young adult novels, beginning with “Divergent,” from writer Veronica Roth.
Like “Hunger Games,” this series is also set in a rather bleak future, although not as awful as what Katniss Everdeen has to suffer. In this future, there are five factions that formed after an earth-scorching war. The peace is kept by knowing your place. Erudites are the smart ones who handle technology and science while dressed in blue. Like their name would suggest, the white-clad Candors revere honesty, so they take on matters of law. The Amity faction dresses in orange to work the land and provide food, and the fearless Dauntless are the daredevils dressed in black who act as security for the Chicago area where the film is set. Last is Abnegation — the most boring of the five groups. Dressed in drab gray, these are the do-gooders who lead simple, selfless lives.
Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is in Abnegation with her family, but in a rite of passage she is tested to see if her virtues make her suitable for another faction and found to be “divergent,” which is not good. It would mean Beatrice or Tris, the name she prefers, is possessed with different attributes; Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the Erudites, is on the lookout for divergents because due to their abundance of free will, they might disrupt the balance. This, of course, is code for “can’t have any free thinkers or we might lose control.”
Tris is urged by her tester (Maggie Q) to hide her divergence, and in a daring move at the Choosing Ceremony, she goes with Dauntless. She soon meets Four (Theo James), her handsome weapons instructor, and it turns out he is hiding something too.
With decent production values and a strong cast of young actors including Miles Teller and Zoe Kravitz, this series is primed to please the teen audience it was intended for. It could stand to place a little more emphasis on the script to challenge Woodley, who made such a splash in “The Descendents” a few years ago. She is certainly capable of doing more than looking pouty-faced and confused.
By the end of this movie, the insurrection is gearing up for the next two installments with Woodley and James returning in their roles.
On another note: I sadly observed the passing of actor James Rebhorn, who died a week ago after a long battle with melanoma. Rebhorn was one of those many unsung character actors that you see and ask yourself, “Where have I seen that guy before?” With Rebhorn, it was more like where haven’t you seen him before. He was not limited to one kind of character; he could play them all, and his long list of credits in television and film includes “30 Rock,” “Boston Legal,” “The Good Wife” and “Law and Order.” In film, you might remember him as Herbert Greenleaf, the concerned dad in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” or the stern headmaster of the prep school in “Scent of a Woman.”
In the ’90s, he was the evil stepfather on the long running soap “The Guiding Light,” which is where I first remember seeing him. He was mean and abusive and I hated him — just like he intended. Lately he’s been grabbing at my emotions playing Carrie Mathison’s dad on “Homeland.” Both “Homeland” characters suffer from debilitating bipolar disorder, and he and Claire Danes shared some powerful and poignant scenes in the last two years.
I note this actor’s death because I’ll miss his steady and prolific work. He was never a leading man or had a credit over the title. He wasn’t a celebrity. You would never have seen him on “The Tonight Show.” He was just a hardworking actor who died too soon. He was only 65.