This is a surprisingly good adaptation of the popular Young Adult novel by Suzanne Collins. Gary Ross (who also directed Seabiscuit, Pleasantville, and who wrote Big) nails the sombre and unjust tone of the novel. The satire of reality tv and repressive government is mild but the broader themes of subtle resistance and ethical sacrifice are used to good measure. Jennifer Lawrence, as expected, is a natural Katniss Everdeen and her subdued emotion sears the screen. It’s not a breathtaking film but it is very satisfying for Hunger Gamers as well as those unaware of the book series.
Don’t think there is some Twilight tween crush kind of fandom propping up The Hunger Games. These books are serious and brutally stark. It’s not quite The Road for kids but it does paint a dismal not too distant future. The story has something for everyone with love triangles and fights to the death.
Here is the plot synopsis: Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.-imdb.com
Katniss is an excellent and realistic heroine. There aren’t many young female protagonists like her on the silver screen. Her ethics and her strengths and weaknesses made her resonant with American kids, girls especially, but it’s not a gender-focused story. Katniss is a clever survivalist but she is also heroic for taking care of her family not just by hunting game. She saves lives but she is nothing like an untouchable superhero. She is vulnerable, trying to hide her tears when her luck consistently turns bad and has second thoughts about her decisions while trying to maintain an veneer of confidence. Anyway, just know that the story provides an accessible and great female role model but young boys won’t even think twice that a kid with two X chromosomes is the badass hero.
Jennifer Lawrence basically played the same character in Winter’s Bone (one of the best films of 2010). Some other memorable performances come from Woody Harrelson as the mentor, Haymitch, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. There wasn’t enough of Haymitch’s drunk belligerence but it worked. None of the young actors chewed the scenery and the casting in general was well done.
The action was exciting and the style of the movie made the film very tense. There are a few countdown sequences when the Hunger Games arena is revealed and I was holding my breath. Katniss shakes with fear and it really made me anxious despite knowing everything that was going to happen. Speaking of which, there are no big divergences from the book; little things are changed but I think mostly the changes made were to keep the plot paced. It’s a 2 1/2 hours film and while the exposition is slow and some might say the film is slow in general I think the space and quiet makes for a film that makes the audience pay attention. The tension waits like a taut bowstring with arrow notched. The pressure builds without ever fully breaking; I enjoy that skewed balance.
The kid-on-kid violence was handled perfectly. It was nasty and final and serious without being gory or sensationalist. I applaud director, Gary Ross’, ability to not make the audience cheer for murder or vengeance. Mercy and compassion can co-exist with bloodsport in an action film and the stylistic choices symbolize those ethical themes without contradicting them as in so many other movies about self-defense and survival.
I anticipate some viewers might laugh at the costumes and not understand their purpose. Yes, the costumes are silly but they are supposed to be. The Capitol dwellers are hyper-superficial and have no idea the other districts starve to death in their neo-Roman decadence. I chuckled a bit at some of the art director too but I was able to get past it.
Minor quibbles: The actor playing Gale was too old and beefy to play an 18 year old. Not enough Rue interactions. The mockingjay pin subplot was a bit contrived compared to the book’s symbolism.
The Hunger Games is worth your time and money. Definitely needs to be seen on a big screen but the IMAX is a superfluous money-grab. I guarantee they will film the next books in the series based on how well the film is going to do financially and I look forward to seeing how the deal with the increasingly brutality.