Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The film version of Suzanne Collins’s book series finally hits screens, with the kind of buzz that ‘John Carter’ wish it had. With a strong female protagonist in the form of Katniss Everdeen, this dystopian sci-fi film is anchored by the talented Jennifer Lawrence, who showcased her ability in the acclaimed indie flick ‘Winter’s Bone’. Her stellar acting ability elevates the occasionally muddled, and sometimes draggy, film.
Some may scream copycat at the story, which is reminiscent of ‘Battle Royale’, ‘The Running Man’ and a dozen other films. In a not-too-far-future America, the Capitol selects a teenage boy and girl from the twelve districts it rules to fight to the death on live television.
When her sister is selected for the games, Katniss stands in for her, while the male participant from her district is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who harbours an obvious crush for Katniss. Gale (Liam Hemsworth, brother of hunky Chris) is Katniss’ boyfriend who can’t do much except watch as Katniss and Peeta’s relationship develops right in front of his eyes as they take on the challenges of the arena.
While the story might sound clichéd, Collins does have more going on underneath, as the book, and now the film, embraces the reality TV aspect, emphasizing how the warriors are marketed to give them an edge.
Directed by Gary Ross, the film isn’t as bloody as the book, keeping safely in PG territory. Ross manages to capture the book’s flavour, and harps on the fascist nature of the government that rules over the other districts and the decadent nature of those within, who seem to dress like it’s a dress-like-Lady Gaga party on a daily basis. In comparison, the inhabitants of District 12, where Katniss hails from, appear to have picked up discards from ‘Winter’s Bone’.
The movie is firmly Lawrence’s, who captures the headstrong and capable Katniss; vulnerable and afraid. Ross tries to capture the myriad emotions that she feels, such as when she first kills an enemy combatant, without relying on broadcasting them. Hutcherson plays the part of Peeta commendably well, transforming what appears to be a country yokel to a media-savvy combatant who has his own plan for his participation in the games.
The older co-stars have a ball with their larger-than-life roles. Stanley Tucci plays flamboyant TV host Caesar Flickerman, who is often as ridiculous as his name sounds. Exuding sheer presence is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ ambitious stylist, determined to capture her nature and give her an edge over the others in the games.
Woody Harrelson is also endearing as a former champion of the games who becomes a mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Donald Sutherland who plays the President and the ruler of the Capitol seems to be keeping himself for the next two movies.
Still, the movie does drag, particularly in the long lead up to the games and during the actual games itself, where Peeta and Katniss develop a romantic relationship. At almost two and a half-hours Ross could have slimmed things down a bit more, particularly during a long death scene for one of the contestants.
Nonetheless, Ross has done a good job in this faithful adaptation. ‘The Hunger Games’ is good enough, and with a mega box-office expected, it will undoubtedly propel the production of the next two films in the series. Lawrence has the makings of a star and shows she can carry the movie on her own, though the marketing blitz has made the film seem better than it is.