Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley with Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
Plot: The twelve districts of North America is ruled by a Capitol that punishes the treason of their ancestors by selecting two children from each district and having them fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is the kind of film that many, including me, judged before we even saw it. It seemed like one of a long line of Harry Potter followers. A set of books aimed at teens and tweens, turned into a powerhouse set of blockbusters with large cast and little thought put into it. However, my little brother fell in love with the premise (it is basically Battle Royale with political undertones), and I picked it up for a watch. I was beyond impressed; I was amazed.
Let’s direct our praise first at Suzanne Collins, the author of a trilogy of books that I shall be buying very soon. Her story is well-woven and has so many layers, I am sure we will be dissecting the deeper meanings of society hidden in the chapters for some time now. Collins takes the thrilling idea of pitting children against each other in a fight to the death, which is enough to get you hooked in a film, and adds intelligence to the proceedings. Therefore, the audience is treated to a potential line of future, where certain issues of our society have grown into serious social dilemmas. The easy one to spot is the oppression of states on others. Then there is also the issue of the children of the districts being punished for the crimes of their elders. There is one scene, where Katniss and Peeta refuse to be symbolised by their district in the opening ceremony, suggesting a breaking away from stereotypes. An anti-racism reading could be looked into there, if you choose to delve deeper than the simple fun of the settings. Then we get the rich and poor divide, which is cleverly done by making the future’s depiction of beauty hideously grotesque (Elizabeth Banks’ character is a terrific blend of Helena Bonham Carter and Lady Gaga). On top of that, Collins finds time to talk about the victimisation of celebrity and how the media turns famous people in playthings to be disposed of. These are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. The Literature student is me is going berserk with happiness.
Again, all of this is just for those wishing to look at the bigger picture. The immediate scenario is so engaging that you would be forgiven for ignoring the context completely. We are given a great dystopian world that you might mistake for the dark ages if it wasn’t for the luxurious technology kept just out of reach of the districts. The smaller details are carefully constructed, giving us jaw-dropping set-pieces. In fact, newcomers to the film might be confused at the lack of Hunger Games. Half of the movie is spent with the foreplay of this great event, rather than the actual fighting. However, it is credit to both Collins and director Ross that we are in no rush to even get to the bloodbath part of the film. We are having so much fun with Woody Harrelson’s crazy advisor and Stanley Tucci’s showbiz guru that it is almost a shame when we leave this lavish world and enter the more primal surroundings of the Hunger Games.
I could talk about how well Harrelson, Tucci and Sutherland act in this film (and they really are great with what they do), but there’s only really one actress worth talking about: the almighty Jennifer Lawrence. She is the woman of the month here, given what we could describe as one of the juiciest female roles of 2012. Katniss is an easily likeable character and she is a welcome figure to spend the majority of the movie with. She is honourable, jumping into the Hunger Games to protect her family, socially awkward, struggling with the idea of getting sponsors for the Games and suitably distant from the combatants. When her partner, who she will eventually have to kill, reveals his feelings for her, she lashes out in a stunning display of emotion. Lawrence conceals the emotions of the character well, but at the same time, they are always clear to the audience. It is this balance that makes Lawrence one of the most exciting new actresses of this era.
The actual Hunger Games are actually slightly disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, they are worth the wait and are satisfying. But personally, I wanted more. Really, there are too many quiet moments, where Lawrence is allowed to reflect. I wanted a non-stop feeling of dread and tension to pierce the atmosphere and I never really got that. I understood that the Hunger Games was a brutal, dangerous piece of entertainment, but I never felt that and I think that was the small flaw that brought this sequence down. The movie was capable of that. The best part of the movie was the first few seconds of the Hunger Games, when the children turn on each other. The dark tone of the Games is buried underneath the glitz of show-business until this moment and suddenly the bloody kills and savage desperation for survival comes free. It is startling, shocking and brilliant. If only this feeling was held for just that little bit longer.
Final Verdict: A very satisfying piece of cinema, which might boast bloody kills and a simplistic plot, but juxtaposes it with social criticisms and a deep background. Lawrence shines as the lead.