The hype surrounding the cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” is no joke. Since its release in 2008, the book has sold more than 11 million copies, spent weeks atop bestseller lists, and quickly evolved into a pop culture phenomenon—for tweens and adults alike. Make a movie as good as the book? No pressure.
Director Gary Ross successfully transformed the dystopian world of the Games into something terrifyingly concrete and real. Aside from a slightly slow start, Hunger Games kept the pace of its literary counterpart, and it had my heart racing from the opening credits.
The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, in a country called Panem, a post-apocalyptic world consisting of the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games—a brutal televised competition (with cheesy host Caesar Flickerma, played by Stanley Tucci) in which 24 participants battle-to-the-death. There can only be one victor, and the odds are not in District 12’s favor. From the beginning, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is one fearless female heroine, volunteering in place of her sister and saving her from an inevitable death. Katniss and her male equivalent Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) will face an unlikely future as they venture into the realm of the Games, where they’ll face bigger, stronger “tributes” who have trained for this event their whole lives.
At the root of this film is a disturbingly captivating story. The stakes are invariably high, as in any film where characters come face-to-face with death. But this is different. The participants are young—some mere children, like Katniss’ ally Rue (Amandla Stenberg)—and they are confronted with the violent realization that they must either kill or be killed.
Screenwriters Ross, Collins and Billy Ray were smart to deviate from the first-person narrative adopted in the book. This allowed viewers more scene time with lesser-developed characters like Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and drunken mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). But the film left Katniss’ male friend and potential love-interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in the background and forfeited some time with Capitol stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
But Lawrence is enough to make us forget about these shortcomings. Her portrayal of the heroic and gritty Katniss is quiet but riveting, vulnerable but complex, and mirrors her performance in the 2010 indie Winter’s Bone. Lawrence’s performance bears most of the weight in Hunger Games, so much so that Hutcherson’s depiction of Peeta, though poignant, fades softly into the background.
Hunger Games is a violently articulate film that’s got more buried under the surface than just suspense—think larger political and economic implications. Hunger Games will satisfy fans of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, and I have a sneaking suspicion this film will leave movie-goers hungry for more—whether they’ve read the series or not.
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