A new young adult film based on a best selling series of books is set in a world where diversity is frowned upon; sort of like Arizona without the dry heat.
In “Divergent” a Big Brother style government has divided the post-apocalyptic Chicago into five factions: the altruistic Abnegation sect, the peace loving Amity, the “I cannot tell a lie” Candor group, the militaristic arm Dauntless and the smarty-pants Erudites.
At age sixteen all citizens must submit to a personality test that will help them decide which faction they will join. “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” is the Orwellian motto.
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is from an Abnegation family, but chooses to join Dauntless, the warrior faction charged with protecting the city. During the grueling training “Tris” meets future love interest Four (Theo James) who helps her disguise the fact that she is “divergent,” a person who cannot be pigeonholed into just one designation. “If you don’t fit into a category they can’t control you,” she is told.
“Divergent” feels like a greatest hits version of recent young adult stories. Mixing and matching “Hunger Games” with a taste of “Harry Potter” and a splash of “Twilight,” results in a new story that feels familiar, like a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist.
The film does take pains in the first hour to establish a world, with a unique set of rules—like once you choose a faction you can’t go back—and then promptly proceeds to break their own guidelines. The disregard for the rubrics blunts the power of the story, changing it from a high concept sci fi idea to simply a shifting situation for the characters to exist in. It’s a state of affairs passing itself off as an idea.
That won’t matter to the film’s core audience, teens, who will be more interested in Tris’s grrrl power, the dynamic of the Dauntless recruits and Four, the movie’s heart throb. Director Neil Burger aptly juggles all these elements well, and despite the plot lapses and some bloodless action—a zip line aerial scene that should be visually spectacular doesn’t make the eyeballs dance like it could—but the film is a little darker and grittier than you’d expect from a blockbuster-to-be. It would have been interesting to see what a director with true futuristic vision, like Terry Gilliam, could have done with the material, but ultimately it’s not about dystopia.
The young adult story thrives off subtext and in this case it is more about family, being yourself and facing fears, all subjects that will resonate with the target audience louder than any sci fi premise.
“Divergent” is “Hunger Games” light, but Woodley and James bring some heat to the leads and it’s fun watching Kate Winslet sneering her way through a villainous role.
Hollywood is full of hyphenates, the kind of people who introduce themselves as a model-actor-writer-waiter-personal-trainer-dog-walker.
Lately there is one Tinsel Town citizen, however, who has actually earned every word in his hyphenated title.
Tracy Letts is an actor-writer-producer-Pulitzer-Prize-winner who is going to have to get longer business cards if he gets any more successful. You may not recognize the name unless you pay attention to the end credits of Homeland (he plays Senator Andrew Lockhart on the popular show) or if you know who won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
He’s a multi-talent with a shelf of awards, some heavyweight acting credits and a new movie screenplay on his resume.
His latest project, the script for August: Osage County, puts words into the mouths of some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. The film brings together the Weston sisters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) with their pill-popping mommy-dearest Violet (Meryl Streep).
As a writer Letts says inspiration came from Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Jim Thompson, which might explain the dark vein that runs through his work.
How twisted are his plays? “Everybody in Tracy’s stories gets naked or dead,” says his mom, author Billie Letts.
Tracy jokingly says that his mother is “a liar” for saying that, pointing out that “not all of the people in my plays wind up naked or dead.”
Still there is no denying that his screenplay for Killer Joe, the 2011 Matthew McConaughey thriller, is written with what Roger Ebert called, “merciless black humor.” The story of a corrupt cop and a bad insurance claim earned critical praise even if the Women Film Critics Circle cited the film for its presentation of what they called “the worst female and male images” of the year.
According to Entertainment Weekly his script for Bug, starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon as a lonely woman and unhinged war veteran trapped in a bug infested Oklahoma motel room, contains an “enjoyably icky heart.”
Tracy Letts seems willing to take on any challenge to add to his hyphenate status. There’s just one thing you can’t ask him to do. “I don’t act in the stuff that I write,” he says. “I have no interest in doing that.”
High Crimes is a formulaic thriller saved only by some strong performances and the steady hand of director Carl Franklin. The story involves a mass execution in a Latin American village, and the Army’s ensuing cover-up. Attorney Claire Kubik’s (Ashley Judd) husband Ronald Chapman (James Caviezel) is wrongly (or maybe correctly) accused of the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians while he was in the Marines. Her world is turned upside down as she tries to defend her husband in military court. Along the way she enlists the help of grizzled lawyer Charles Grimes (Morgan Freeman) to sort out the intricacies of military law. Predictable and uninspired, High Crimes is almost completely forgettable save for its stylish direction and solid work from Freeman and Judd. Freeman deserves better than this, he’s a gifted actor who elevates the material he’s given to work with, but I would like to see him in a truly meaty role that would challenge him. Judd, I think, needs to spend more time considering her career choices. While she has generally avoided the women in danger scenarios of many of her contemporaries, by choosing mechanical roles like this she is keeping her light under a bushel.