Movie Review: The Hunger Games
Fans of “The Hunger Games” book will find themselves thrilled by director Gary Ross’s very faithful film adaptation. Ross has managed to depict Suzanne Collins’ vision with eerie precision, nailing the look of the glum and socially repressed districts as well as the opulence and excess of the Capitol. It’s clear he took the material seriously, and he doesn’t gloss over the violence like many feared; this is a hard PG-13, and parents should take note.
If you aren’t familiar with the books, The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future. The United States has been divided into 12 districts, and is now called Panem. As penance for past uprisings, and as a means of intimidation, a “reaping” takes place every year. Through a lottery system, each district chooses one male and one female between the ages of 12-18 to participate in the The Hunger Games, a sadistic competition in which the participants must fight to the death. Only one winner emerges, and the “show” is broadcast to the entire nation. It’s treated as a grand event, replete with betting, sponsors and great honor bestowed upon the winner (and their district). Winning the competition can mean the difference between starvation and salvation for a district, so each district madly supports their competitors.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 16 year old from District 12 who selflessly volunteers for the competition when her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected for the games. Her male counterpart is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the soft-spoken son of a baker. Katniss feels a connection to Peeta because he threw her a loaf of bread one day when she was starving. She’s tremendously conflicted about the prospect of hurting the man who once took pity on her.
During the initial fanfare of introducing all the competitors to the nation (only after they receive a makeover from a team of stylists, makeup artists, and the like) Peeta divulges to the public that he has harbored a crush on Katniss for years. The public swoons, and the district representatives quickly work to present Katniss and Peeta as star-crossed lovers. It makes for great television, and ups the ante when it comes sponsorship (sponsors can front money to send supplies to competitors who are starving, sick, or otherwise suffering). Thus the two find themselves cast in pivotal roles in the upcoming Hunger Games.
Katniss becomes an odds-maker favorite because she is smart, capable and has supported her family for years by hunting. She’s lethal with a bow and arrow, and knows the forest terrain like the back of her hand. However, she’s ill equipped to actually kill her competitors, she lacks the bloodthirsty zeal that so many of her competitors possess. The movie chronicles her struggle to stay alive by wit and luck, all the while remaining faithful to Peeta.
First and foremost, the film is impeccably cast. I was deeply disappointed when Lawrence was announced as Katniss. I adore her as an actress (Winter’s Bone), but I thought she was far too old to play 16. Thankfully, they did a wonderful job making her look young, but the rest is all Lawrence. She skillfully portrays Katniss as a frightened, but ultimately capable woman who steadfastly refuses to accept her crappy lot in life. She reluctantly plays the game when it comes to television appearances, but it’s a matter of self-preservation, at no time do you feel she has bought into her instant fame.
Woody Harrelson is delightfully eccentric and perfect as Haymitch, the alcoholic former winner from the district who is initially chilly toward Peeta and Katniss, but quickly warms to their plight and rises to the occasion of being their mentor. Elizabeth Banks is unrecognizable under the cartoonish makeup and costuming of Effie Trinket, a clueless representative from the Capitol, but she is exactly how I pictured the character. She’s self absorbed and fully unaware of the grave social injustices within her country. Lenny Kravitz is effective (if somewhat subdued) as Cinna, Katniss’s stylist. Donald Sutherland is perfect as the president of Panem. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is basically nonexistent in this film (he’ll undoubtedly be a bigger presence in the upcoming films.) My only casting qualm is with Peeta. Hutcherson is just not what I envisioned, but he performs admirably in the role. It just took me a while to warm up to this version of the strapping lad.
The film is visually quite stunning. I was blown away way with the scenes from the capitol. The garish extravagance of the film’s epicenter was exactly as I pictured it. Ross shows a true understanding of Collins’s world. His pacing is admirable, even at an almost 2 ½ running time. He utilizes shaky cam and frantic camera angles to convey the chaos of the competition. Over all, I really can’t imagine a better adaption of the book, and that is essentially all the fans are hoping for.