Synopsis: Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Gary Ross
Running Length: 142 mins
Random Crew Highlight: Second Unit Director – Steven Soderbergh
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: Boasting taglines that ring true (“The world will be watching”, “The games will change everyone”, and “May the odds be ever in your favor”) the film adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins trilogy arrives on the big screen in one of the best page to film adaptations in recent memory. Not even the Harry Potter books have been brought to life with such ease and ability…at least not in their first outing. Some of that may be due to the fact that Collins was/is a writer for television, so her novels already had a built in filmic vision. No matter…even if you hadn’t read the book(s) I can’t imagine you not getting a tremendous entertainment out of The Hunger Games.
Everything about the movie just hits the bullseye…from the stark opening credits to the handling of the central death match game pitting 24 youngsters against each other. I had read the book a little over a year ago and am glad that I didn’t have the movie to color my vision of the world of Panem and its 12 districts. What the movie shows us is so much more than my imagination could have come up with – and it all works perfectly. District 12, where our heroine Katinss calls home, has an Ozark look to it that helps to flesh out our characters right from the get go. While not a long book to adapt, the film does have to establish a lot of things in quick order and it does so without sacrificing its narrative voice.
If you’ve read the summary you know that a boy and a girl from every district are selected via a lottery each year to compete in The Hunger Games – a battle royale where only one can survive. All of this is broadcast on TV as both entertainment and a way to remember a fabled uprising that led to the creation of the games. Volunteering to take the place of her young sister, Katinss is soon leaving District 12 for the Capitol where she undergoes a make-over, trains for the games, and is then thrust into the spotlight as the unlikely heroine of the games. (That is a pithy summary by a reviewer that doesn’t want to spoil the movie too much for you!)
Katinss is brought to full-bodied life by Lawrence in a dynamic and layerd performance. I can’t imagine any other actress in Hollywood that could have given her breath and blood like she has here. And it’s not a role she works herself into, no, she is Katinss from frame one and it’s an award worthy performance. As impressed as I was with Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and the little seen Like Crazy…she won me over completely here. Most impressive is that so much of her performance is dependent on dialogue-free scenes which can be hard for any actor to pull off while keeping our interest. Her moments of fear and insecurity are real and deeply felt.
As Peeta, Katinss’s fellow District 12 competitor Hutcherson also nicely inhabits the role. Even if he’s not totally on Lawrence’s level both are well matched with another. I missed seeing some of Peeta’s rougher edges which doesn’t always make him totally likable…but I see why this had to be done for the film to get where it needed to be by the end. Banks is a riot and looks to be having a ball playing the Capitol employed chaperone Effie Trinket. If you didn’t know it was her, you may have been stumped at who was under the outlandish costumes and make-up — she disappears into the cold-edged lunacy with delightful abandon. Harrelson still strikes me as the wrong choice for Haymitch (the booze-soaked former District 12 winner of the games that now acts as advisor to the District 12 players) but aside from the unkempt hair he has some nice moments. Bentley and Tucci have a few interesting arcs but I continue to grow weary of Tucci playing these roles…capped teeth and all. Donald Sutherland makes for a wickedly sinister President Snow and there’s more to come from him that will prove he’s the right actor for the job.
The movie follows the book pretty religiously but does so without giving the impression that the screenwriters just tried to fit everything in. When we finally do get to the games after 90 minutes or so those that have read the book know what’s coming but I still found myself at the edge of my seat. I had forgotten several key plot points and was unexpectedly emotional at various character fates. Kudos to director Ross for handling the violence with a mixture of restraint and service to the source novel. The violence being presented the way it was I would say that parents should see this before showing it to your children. Even if they’ve read the book some moments are just too intense/bloody to take in without getting your seal of approval first.
If I had to pull out of few criticisms it would be in two places. I wasn’t crazy about the casting of Lenny Kravitz as the stylist/confidant of Katinss — while he has the look down, I didn’t particularly enjoy his acting as it kept bringing me out of the movie whenever he was onscreen. The second drawback was that the film is weak in the effects department. Too often the CGI looked rushed and unfinished – I would have hoped that there would have been as much attention to creating realistic backgrounds as to what colored eyeliner crowd member #4 was wearing. Some of the effects looked positively quaint when compared to other movies with the same budget but less worthy source material.
Even though it is known that there are two novels waiting to be adapted, the film doesn’t leave you feeling like everything was a set-up for what comes next. Much like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, it’s a brilliant adaptation that pulls no punches — this is a dynamite first entry in a trilogy that informs everything that is to come.