'Divergent': A Film About A Risk Taker That Plays It Safe

Los Angeles Times and Morning Edition film critic Ken Turan reviews "Divergent," a sci-fi adventure about a world in which people are divided into groups representing a particular virtue — bravery, for example. It is based on the young adult novels by Veronica Roth.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, Shailene Woodley's character in the movie "Divergent" is part of a huge trend in books and films these days: a young risk taker who's unafraid to break the rules. From Harry Potter to "Twilight's" Bella Swan to Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games." Film critic Kenneth Turan says even though "Divergent" is about a risk taker, the film takes no risks at all.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Divergent" is set in the future, a century after a catastrophic war has turned cities into shadows of themselves. In an attempt to prevent future conflict, society has divided itself into five factions, each focusing on a particular personality trait. As one of society's leaders, played by Kate Winslet, explains, it's all for the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DIVERGENT")

KATE WINSLET: (As Jeanine) The only way our society can survive is for each of you to claim your rightful place. Today, you will take a test that will help you discover who you truly are. The future belongs to those who know where they belong.

TURAN: For 16-year-old Tris, convincingly acted by Shailene Woodley, the system is a nightmare. She doesn't know where she belongs and the test that's supposed to help doesn't work on her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DIVERGENT")

WINSLET: (As Jeanine) Your results were inconclusive.

SHAILENE WOODLEY: (As Tris) This was supposed to tell me what to do. We're supposed to trust the test.

WINSLET: (As Jeanine) The test didn't work on you. They call it divergent.

TURAN: Attempting to hide from her fate, Tris joins the tough guy faction called Dauntless. There she meets the enigmatic For, well played by actor Theo James, and it's only a matter of time before romantic sparks complicate Tris' quest to figure out who she is. "Divergent" is a perfectly acceptable, play-it-safe version of the first book in the hugely popular trilogy written by Veronica Roth, books that are hard-wired to classic adolescent anxieties. Start with the story of a girl who gradually discovers that only the best people don't fit in. Mix in the twists and turns of a is-that-cute-guy-really-looking-at-me high school romance. When you set it all against the backdrop of a world in peril, you've really hit the popular culture jackpot. No wonder the filmmakers decided that playing it safe was the only way to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and also for the Los Angeles Times.

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