Did you have one of those big box of crayons as a kid? You know, the 64-pack with colours called 'Goldenrod' and 'Mahogony' and a built-in sharpener on the side? If you did, and you were like me, you probably used all of them at least once. But I get the feeling from seeing your work in other films - American Hustle and Django Unchained, to name a few - that you prefer a simplified spectrum with which to paint your worlds. And while you take your cues from the director and DP, the tools with which to create the palette of the film, like that long ago box of crayons, are ultimately in your hands. In Divergent, you employ them sparingly but with great effect.
Which is no small feat, considering this film's themes are treated as deftly as a toddler scribbling on a nursery wall with a fist-full of Crayolas.
Dystopian Chicago is split into factions based on virtues. When Triss Prior takes the aptitude test to determine which faction she should be in, she discovers she possesses traits of three factions: Erudite, the intellectuals, Abegnation, the selfless, and Dauntless, the brave. This makes her 'divergent', a dangerous designation that could very well spell her demise should any of the faction heads discover her secret. She leaves the faction of Abegnation, where she was raised, to join Dauntless. While enduring intense physical and mental training, Triss uncovers corruption that could change the course of her people's future.
In this post-apocalyptic landscape, everything has a dusty, monochromatic pallor. What scant colour contrast we see is specific to each faction: muted orange and golds for Amity, dark blues for the Erudite, black and white for the truthful Candor, black for Dauntless, and washed out beiges and greys for Abegnation. It isn't until our heroine's destiny chooses her that we begin to see sharper colours. Pulsing cerulean neon and glowing sunset-red against charcoal walls and cavernous backdrops. It's a subtle trick for a film aimed at young adults, and one that you accomplish by adding layers of warmth and chill to a narrative already bursting with exposition.
The challenge in making the first movie of a trilogy is finding that sweet spot between conveying the heart and life of story without overloading new audiences with too much exposition. There are moments when Divergent feels like it's trying to cram that 64-pack of crayons into a 48-pack box. What saves the film from collapsing under the weight of its naivety is the dedication of the cast, namely Shailene Woodley as our heroine Triss. Woodley plays her part so believably you can't help but root for her despite the juvenile, it's-okay-to-be-different, people-aren't-just-one-thing thematic undertones so simply expressed for the training bra set. Even the telegraphed romance with her broody trainer Four is palatable thanks to the smouldering chemistry between Woodley and Theo James. Ashley Judd as Triss' mom, Miles Teller the conflicted bully Peter, and Kate Winslet as Erudite villain Jeanine, all shade their characters to give them dimension; one imagines that lesser actors might have colored outside the lines.
When you have a story this bloated with information, yet crammed with such painfully sincere moralizing, it must have taken great restraint for you to refrain from making it black and white. I have to commend you for recognizing a compelling performance from a competent young actor and realizing it didn't require flashy embellishment. At the end of the film, Triss looks out on the haggard landscape as the clouds disperse, revealing a prism of sun flares and a rainbow shining through. Here's hoping that in the next installment, the filmmakers realize what you already know: sometimes less is more.