Review: The Hunger Games
PLOT: While trying to protect her younger sister Primrose, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to enlist in THE HUNGER GAMES. In this deadly event, the rich select “tributes” that must battle each other in a fight to the death. The games are presented to punish the group of districts who rebelled against their country. The proceedings include a boy and a girl chosen from each district to be celebrated, and sadly, quickly forgotten if they are defeated. Talk about getting rid of the poor...
REVIEW: From the first few moments of THE HUNGER GAMES you can tell there is something very different from another “young adult” franchise that I will not mention by name. It lies in the film’s central character Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a true young adult heroine if ever there was one – even if her name is a tad bit strange. She is a fascinating character that is sympathetic, yet strong, and doesn’t need to rely on a sparkling undead vamp to save her. Out of many of the recent on-screen leading ladies, Lawrence’s Katniss feels like the genuine real deal. It also helps that director Gary Ross creates a very visceral and exciting chapter in this expected franchise for her to exist in.
In the future, there are twelve enslaved districts (the thirteenth was destroyed before the games) set in Panem - the ruins of North America. Poverty has taken over these lands leaving the lower class citizens at the mercy of the rich and powerful. Every year on Reaping Day, each of the districts must choose a boy and girl to represent them in what is called THE HUNGER GAMES. In this gladiatorial competition, the “Tributes” – the unfortunate ones chosen by lottery or volunteer - must fight for survival as only one can be victor in this kill or be killed situation. For the wealthy, it is a time of celebration, and a chance to be entertained by the common folks suffering. This futuristic battle is broadcast live on television for all to see. And who is becoming the star of the show? That would be District 12 and its two entries, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Melark (the terrific Josh Hutcherson).
It is with Katniss we must relate, and thankfully, Suzanne Collins has created a remarkable young woman who must do all she can to protect her family from harm. From early on when her sister is called to be one of the Tributes, it is Katniss who volunteers to protect her younger sibling Primrose (Willow Shields) from certain death. Lawrence is perfect as the selfless young woman who becomes some sort of object put on display for the well-to-do. This is an incredible performance as she is able to create a very real and sympathetic character. There are several impacting moments where we witness her on her own, looking for ways to survive, or trying to help somebody she cares about. Thanks to her impressive work, this is pretty potent stuff. You want a good role model for young women? This isn’t a bad place to start.
If you have read the books, you will have no problems connecting to the fictional nation of Panem in this feature film version. And for the most part, the newly initiated will find it easy enough to play along. The rich folks sport powdered wigs and all sorts of bright and vibrant colors. They enjoy looking down upon the lower class as they would any other animal. Both Everdeen and Melark’s PR Manager of sorts Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) – the former was victorious at the event – are so caught up in wealth and power that they hardly see the two tributes as anything more than what they are, a sacrificial lamb. Yet once Katniss shows skill and prowess, she quickly becomes the odds on favorite. All the while she develops affectionate feelings for Peeta, yet she doesn’t forget about the boy she left behind (Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne). Thankfully, the beginnings of this romantic triangle are handled deftly.
THE HUNGER GAMES is an exciting and sometimes intuitive take on class wars and the struggle for survival. Certainly there are moments that may not have translated from the book as well as they could have, yet Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray adapted the script and made it accessible enough to the uninitiated. The cast, which also includes Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland, are all appropriately placed in this imaginative world. This may be Lawrence’ shining moment, yet there is not a weak performance of the bunch. Harrelson is especially effective as the arrogant and bitter Abernathy. He gives this character depth which makes his transition into a true champion for Katniss all the more believable.
Going into THE HUNGER GAMES, you have to remember where this came from. If you are looking for an intense and bloody work of fiction, you will be disappointed for sure. There are short bits of combat that were a little more violent than I would have thought they’d be, but nothing that a PG-13 feature hasn’t seen before. And considering the nature of this beast, it does feel like they hold back a little. Not to say you should have beheadings and other sorts of mayhem spewing blood and gore, but to make the fighting between the tributes as quick as they do, the impact is sometimes lessened. Thankfully, there are a handful of moments that exemplify the extreme danger of the games.
THE HUNGER GAMES is sure to please the many fans of the books yet it strives to be more than that. With a lesson in empathy, there is a sense that this kind of reality may be close at hand in our own civilization. The need for blood and the entertainment of seeing the worst in society is merely a preview as to what we might become. GAMES takes a little bit of BATTLE ROYALE - the ultra violent and well respected Japanese feature with a similar premise - and offers an exciting (and sometimes disturbing) vision of the world in which we live. Although if the rich start looking like rejects from the 1985 music video “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco, we’d all better hope for some sort of salvation.