This one slipped past me when it appeared in cinemas a year ago and I only found out about it when I saw an advert for the sequel, due for release soon. I hadn't heard of the novels it was based on either until I looked them up, and discovered that the young author (Veronica Roth) had won awards for her trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) published in 2011-2013. I haven't yet read these, so had no particular expectations of the film. There are a few minor spoilers in this review.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic world in which civilisation is maintained in Chicago, kept separate from the mysterious dangers of the rest of the world by an enormous fence. Within the city, the population is divided into five factions depending on their personal attributes: Erudite (the intellectuals); Dauntless (fighters and peacekeepers); Abnegation (who help others and run the government); Candor (who always tell the truth) and Amity (the peaceful; farmworkers etc). Which faction they belong to is determined when they reach adulthood by a psychological test. Those unable to belong to any of these are known as the Factionless, and live on the fringe of society, surviving by begging. The purpose of dividing society in this way was to achieve stability but, at the beginning of the story, Erudite is stirring up discontent with Abnegation's rule.
Enter the heroine, Beatrice or Tris (Shailene Woodley), brought up in an Abnegation family, whose test is inconclusive; she is a Divergent, a rare personality type feared and hated by the others because they are unpredictable and ungovernable. She keeps her result secret and chooses to join Dauntless, where she is put through a tough training regime designed to weed out the uncommitted. She is surreptitiously helped through this by Four (Theo James) one of the trainers who takes an interest in her. The tension steadily mounts as the growing political crisis becomes interwoven with Tris's personal battle for survival.
Divergent is reminiscent of several other stories, most obviously The Hunger Games and the film Aeon Flux (reviewed on this blog), with a touch of Harry Potter and even echoes of Huxley's Brave New World; plot elements which seem to have been carefully selected to appeal to the target Young Adult audience, as no doubt will the rather simplistic good guys vs bad guys characterisation. While the story contains little in the way of original ideas, these disparate elements are mixed together quite effectively in a film which is well-paced and well-acted, and it held my attention throughout. Not a great film but a good one, and worth watching.