The Hunger Games

Co-Written and Directed: Gary Ross

Written by: Suzanne Collins (screenplay/Books), Billy Ray (screenplay)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth

Set in a dystopic future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the formerly rebellious twelve districts to sacrifice via a fight to the death on live television. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) protects her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) by volunteering to take her place for the games.

I finally got around to seeing the highest grossing film and teen sensation film of the year. Now there have been two articles (here and here) featured on castleco-op.com that have essentially encapsulated the ‘buzz’ surrounding the film. One obviously is that geeks want to tell you that Battle Royale did it first and better (and 3 people on the internet mentioned Running Man - “KILLIAN” *Said in Schwarzenegger yelling voice) and the second is that (go figure) female viewers (and reviewers) think that it’s refreshing to have a believable, strong, feminine leading performance. I find that too many people were getting bogged down in comparisons and not enough about how they engaged with it in that wonderful dark vacuum of the cinema. It’s an engaging film on every level.

It’s not everyday that I get to say Academy Award nominee in front of the leading performer in a young adult fictional novel’s cinematic adaption; but Jennifer Lawrence demonstrates in this performance that she’s deserving of such high praise so early in her career. Katniss doesn’t adhere to the frustrating ‘damsel’ or ‘amazonian warrior’ binaries of that are littered through Hollywood. She’s a three dimensional and complex character and in this kind of film (teenage fiction adaption) that’s what makes her unique. Her uniquity is especially evident in the ‘love triangle’ that’s unfolding throughout the story. She’s not simply uncontrollably smitten with either Gale (Liam Hemsworth) or Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) throughout; she’s [Katniss] very purposeful with how she displays/portrays her affections. Depending on the situation she’s warm, cold, tender, stoic, fierce, playful, stubborn, sharp, self sacrificial, tough, vulnerable. Lawrence effortlessly navigates the complexity of the character and I found myself engaged by her for the duration.

The stellar supporting cast deliver wonderfully sincere performances that accompany and amplify the leading performances from the relatively inexperienced younger cast. Stanley Tucci is absolutely dynamite as flamboyant announcer/commentator Caesar Flickerman. He’s scarily mashed together a Broadway showman with a Breakfast TV presenter – the result keeps you mesmerized. Wes Bentley (a.k.a the kid from American Beauty) plays Seneca Crane – the ambitious and young man in charge of the telecast of the games. It’s clear that he’s caught up with the spectacle instead of the overall message of the games. He’s frequently playing across from Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and being dwarfed by the powerful and intimidating presence of the actor and the character. With minimal movements and the hypnosis of his mellifluous voice Sutherland carries the (currently) passive might of the Capitol. It’s very clear that he’s tiring of the spectacle, and yearns to reinforce that the games are a sign of mercy for their past mutiny. I loved every fleeting moment that he was on screen. Elizabeth Banks’ small but pivotal role as Effie Trinket is a contrast between the opulence and aloof majority in the Capitol. Banks’ performance is solid, without reaching the heights of Mrs Bush in W. Woody Harrelson is getting better and better with age and his former victor Haymitch Abernathy. He’s a cynical drunkard that’s required to instruct the participants about the politics of the games. Not one of his best performances, but he’s very fun to watch.

Co -Writer/Director Gary Ross does a great job of immediately immersing you into the bleakness of Panem’s District 12. The location and production design evokes a dilapidated dystopic vision of oppression and control. Ross uses a frantic camera that is a little disorientating but it’s very effective in giving you a visual sense of the world. There are some moments later in the film when I found myself wanting a steadier hand to heighten the affect of the brutality. Understandably, the visual muting of child-on-child brutality is a result of its target audience

My other complaints with The Hunger Games are minor. Some of the younger performers really couldn’t hold their own compared to Lawrence, Tucci, Sutherland & co. And finally, Games shares the problems that plague translations of novels to cinema. It’s clear that some minor characters in the film have greater significance in the novel but they’re left with basically nothing to do in the film.

The Hunger Games was a refreshing experience. The great attention to detail in production design transports you to Panem. The phenomenal cast with great chemistry and sincere authentic performances from the older actors empowers the material. Ross’ direction had distinct style to complement the aesthetic. And finally, the leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence was transfixing. The Hunger Games should leave you ravenous for more.