Review first published 25/03/12
For those of you, like myself who hasn’t read the book, who doesn’t know what “The Hunger Games” is about, here’s a potted synopsis.
Based on the best selling book by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is set in a dystopian version of North America, now called Panem. Following a rebellion against The Capitol, each of the twelve outlying Districts must provide a tribute of one male and one female teenager aged between 12 and 18 in a ceremony known as the “Reaping” to participate in an annual event called “The Hunger Games” – a televised arena of gladiatorial combat.
Following the selection of her sister in the Reaping, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place in “The Hunger Games” where the only rule is survival of the fittest.
I have to admit that the phenomenon of “The Hunger Games” is very new to me. The reason for me wanting to see this film was motivated by the fact that I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s previous roles in Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class and The Beaver (more on her performance later). Part of me was hoping that after reading my first Dystopian novel in “Divergent”, that this film was going to be absolutely brilliant. The other part of me was concerned that we may have another “Twilight” on our hands. Thank goodness that not only does “The Hunger Games” fall into the former camp of being brilliant… it’s brilliant, awesome, and then some.
The script by Gary Ross from Collins’s book demonstrates why I am of the opinion that the current crop of YA books are cleverly written. The emotions within the script felt real – whether they came from a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, there was motivation behind the structure of the world of Panem – that the Districts are paying the price for their insurrection against The Capitol with the selection of two of their offspring, and there was a logic within the characters’ story arcs whether they be motivated by winning the Games for glory, survival or a need to stick it to The Capitol. The script is also well paced with no sagging in the storyline and no feeling that you need to be looking at your watch wondering when the film is going to end.
The direction by Ross is equally well paced dividing the film into three logical story points tracing Katniss’s journey from District 12, through to her reception and training at The Capitol, and the arena of the Games. He highlights the bleakness of District 12 through the use of a setting that you could almost describe as the stereotypically “Great Depression” where the colour pallet is muted to greys and blues along with ramshackle buildings and food shortages against the opulence of The Capitol with it’s bright colour, mahogany tables and platinum door handles. He also handles the more brutal aspects of the storyline well. Let’s face it, the story is shocking enough as it is without dwelling on gore. However, Ross ably straddles the fine line of being shocking whilst not making the film repellent.
The two leads of Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in the roles of Katniss and Peeta show that good performances can be delivered for films that are primarily aimed at the Young Adult market.
Lawrence follows her strong performances in the films that I mention earlier with yet another strong performance as Katniss. It isn’t a one note dreamy gaze performance by any stretch of the imagination – she ably manages to switch between happiness, anger, fear and defiance alongside a maternal quality as demonstrated in her early scenes with Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen and Amanda Stenberg in the role of Rue. There is also a naivety in her performance in that she’s strong physically, but she doesn’t have the savvy to play the political side of her role as a Tribute, something that gets developed as the film progresses.
Hutcherson is equally strong, albeit from a standpoint that this is really Lawrence’s film. He manages to portray Peeta as a character who has doubts in his own physical abilities, but has more of the political cunning which is demonstrated certainly in his interview with the character of Caesar Flickerman, portrayed by Stanley Tucci, and his outgoing demeanour when waving to the crowds when he is greeted at The Capitol, something that Katniss isn’t comfortable with.
Whilst the characters of Bella and Edward in “Twilight” are supposed to be soulmates, Katniss and Peeta truly are complimentary to each other as they pick up on and show each other where their deficiencies lie. This is partly down to the script and partly down to the way that Lawrence and Hutcherson portray their roles by not ramming the whole “YA romance” thing down the audience’s throat – truly a demonstration of less is more.
The supporting cast are all note perfect throughout as even in an excellent film, you sometimes get an off performance or two but this doesn’t happen in this film . In Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, you get a villain who is threatening, but doesn’t make the error of descending into pantomime villainy and that performance alongside the film’s premise make the whole film so chilling.
Elizabeth Banks gives a great performance in the role of Effie Trinket. Having seen Banks in films like the Spider-man series of films and The Next Three Days, the character of Effie is a little bit of departure from what I’ve seen her in previously as I can only compare this portryal against possibly the deportment coach in the film “A League Of Their Own” – all manners and being seen to be proper.
Lenny Kravitz’s performance in the role of Cinna is so understated, yet so appropriate in the role, so much so that I didn’t even know it was Lenny Kravitz in the role.
Liam Hemsworth uses his limited screen time well in the role of Gale and whilst he is seen as the other male point in Katniss’s relationship triangle, it isn’t rammed down your throat that there is a relationship beyond friendship and a protector role for Katniss’s family – again, something that this film does so well where “Twilight” over-eggs the pudding somewhat.
Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones are both chilling and cheesy in equal measure in their roles of the “Games” television pundits Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith. Both characters have to have the charm of being reality TV presenters in the mould of “Big Brother” whilst giving the smiles and the sob stories, yet still be brutal enough to basically say that these youngsters are having to kill each other.
But the star of the supporting cast, for me, is Woody Harrelson in the role of Haymitch Abernathy. From his drunken introduction, Harrelson makes an impact and you manage to read his performance not only through his vocal performance but through his facial expression as he portrays the fact that whilst Haymitch has to guide Katniss and Peeta through the whole system of “The Hunger Games”, he has to do it whilst feeling disgusted with the whole thing of the “Games” – as shown in the scene where he witnesses a boy from The Capitol treating the whole thing as a no stakes game by waving a plastic sword around, despite the fact that it’s in fact murder on television.
I look forward to whether Lionsgate make the move to follow this up with the two sequels in the series, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”, because based on the ending and the strength of this film, they have just smacked “Twilight” out of the park for the YA market. I was honestly astounded that you can make an action film that has such an emotional punch to it.
This film is now responsible for me changing my reading schedule as the next books that I read will be all three “Hunger Games” books back to back. (Thank you, Suzanne Collins and anyone who has suggested these books to me as well)
P.S. – Re. The whole “Fire Suit” thing… WOW!!!