Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson
Some time in the future, America is now the nation of Panem, composed of twelve districts and a capital. The Hunger Games takes place in Panem’s 74th Annual Hunger Games, a competition where each district must send 1 boy and girl aged 12 to 18 to fight to the death . The Hunger Games exists as a penance the districts must pay for their rebellion against the capital.
In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl with exceptional hunting skills, volunteers as tribute when her 12-year-old sister is chosen as the female from the district. Katniss, along with her schoolmate Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) go to the Capital and receive assistance and advice from District 12’s only victor, Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). The tributes train and then compete in a fight to the death.
Based on the book series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games tells a story of a girl, a district, and a country in many different layers. Though they don’t go into great detail about Panem’s history in the film, The Hunger Games is a reminder to the districts that the Capital is in charge.
Having not read the book series prior to seeing The Hunger Games for the first time, I had a very limited scope and understanding of Panem. I’ve come to appreciate this film within the broader story of the series though, and I’ve had to remind myself that this is the first act of a three act play. As such some of my shortcomings with the movie, though understandable, aren’t entirely unexpected. I found that the story itself dragged at times, for some reason I felt some of the scenes could have been condensed, and yet the movie doesn’t go into something like Katniss’ thought process as these events are unfolding that are there in the book.
With many movies based on books, a lot of detail content is lost. The scene where Peeta throws out the burn bread to a starving Katniss is only alluded to in snip-its in the film, but is described in much more detail in the book. I think my reading of the book has helped me appreciate the film.
One of the strengths of this film is the distinct contrast. At times it seemed the camerawork was more raw and primitive in a way with the scenes in the district in contrast to the Capital or the game arena. The class distinction is also very clear in this film, almost to a sickening level. While the Capital citizens certainly are head and shoulders above the rest, there’s even a great divide among the districts. The fact that Districts 1 and 2 usually have ‘Career Tributes’ train, volunteer, and win is one way that shows how they’re still under the Capital, but far above the other districts.
A film like this has to, absolutely has to have a strong lead otherwise there’s no point in showing up the first day to film. Jennifer Lawrence had been nominated for her leading role in Winter’s Bone two years earlier, but this film and to a lesser extent X-Men:First Class really put her on the map. When discussing her performance and talent as an actress, Donald Sutherland compared her to Sir Laurence Olivier. I feel like this sky’s the limit with her acting career. She makes her character real, and does so in a way that could not be more organic.
Her character’s strength is without question, but some of her best scenes happened when she was most vulnerable. The scene right before The Games started, where she and her stylist Cinna (Kravitz) are together, her pure terror, especially once she’s sealed in the tube, is both disturbing and completely believable. Her strength in The Games, and then her maternal instinct kicking in with Rue, and subsequently her anger and heartbreak after Rue’s death really showcases a broad spectrum of her acting talents. I also saw her grow in leaps and bounds from the start to the end of the film, and it seems more like talent and abilities that were already there, but needed to be brought out under the right circumstances.
The underlying battle between Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth) for Katniss is interesting, though it’s one of those things that is much more of a sub-plot to the main issues dealing with Katniss and the districts of Panem. Both Hutcherson and Hemsworth does well with their performance, either as the star-crossed lover in Peeta’s case, or the long-known friend and hunting partner with Gale.
Most of the supporting cast does a great job in their given roles. I don’t think Effie, Haymitch, or Cinna could have been portrayed better than with Banks, Harrelson, and Kravitz.
Sutherland does a great job with the limited screen time he has in The Hunger Games. He represents the status quo, and is a strong voice of reason on the side of The Capital. I’ve always thought he had great stage presence, and this film was no exception. I’m looking forward to seeing his character develop in the next three films.
The first part of the story is always difficult because so much information has to be communicated. The Hunger Games does a good job of engaging the audience with an entertaining story of an alternate society and sets up for a lot more character and story development in the next three films. It seemed somewhat inevitable that Katniss would survive. Though there’s the underlying thought that she’d survive everything, Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray wrote an excellent screenplay that makes her character grow up quickly and adapt to the many dangerous circumstances she faces.
Having read all the books now, I am looking forward to what Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1 and 2 will look like. If the same amount of competent care that was used with The Hunger Games, they should be great.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.