Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

Wandered off to see the Hunger Games last night.  I know, it's been out a while, but I avoided the crowds, had a deadline to deal with, and then Jack happened, so my plans were derailed for an early viewing.  But it was definitely worth seeing in the theater.

The Hunger Games is based on the young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I read all three books over during spring break while waiting for various wives and mothers in law in the hospital waiting room.  I found them an engaging dystopian glimpse at an American future.  The story presumes an apocalyptic thermonuclear civil war in which thirteen regions of America come to be dominated by a region located in the Rocky Mountains.  As condition of the peace, each of the defeated regions participate in an annual "reaping."  They are forced to hold a drawing in which they send as "tribute" a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight in a bloodsport to the death called the Hunger Games.  The first book in the trilogy follows the story of Katniss Everdeen from Region 12 as she struggles to survive the games.

Perhaps the most important thing the movie has going for it is its faith to the book's story.  It doesn't hurt that Suzanne Collins has a screenwriting credit for the film, or that the movie is well over two hours long. From the "reaping" to the presentation of the winning "tributes'" to the public, Hunger Games sticks to the story with considerable attention to detail.  From the crushing poverty of Region 12 to the opulent splendor of the capital city, and the various vistas of the games themselves, the elaborate settings from the book are seen in three dimensions.
Jennifer Lawrence is great as Katniss Everdeen.
There are also some fine performances.  Jennifer Lawrence is fine as Katniss.  She is strong and self reliant, which somehow manages to balance out her beauty and sexiness.  Lawrence has appeared in X-Men First Class and dominated Winter's Bone, but The Hunger Games is her biggest role.  Caught up in the danger of the contest, she shows us a smart, savvy survivor, quick to grasp the opportunities available to her, content not to do too much, and wily enough to understand how to play the game masters. Josh Hutcherson is good as Peta Mellark, Katniss' male counterpart from Region 12, who has a long-simmering thing for his teammate. Woody Harrelson is a much less soused version of Hunger Games champion and mentor Haymitch Abernathy.  Stanley Tucci is delightful as Hunger Games "color commentator" Caesar Flickerman.  Donald Sutherland is a menacing President Snow.  Each turns in a performance that adds color and texture to the story.

A few blog posters have criticized the decision to add actors of color to play some of the prominent supporting characters.  Rue, a twelve year old who reminds Katniss of her young sister Prim, is played by young Amandla Sternberg, and African American actress.  The story loses nothing in the telling by Sternberg's performance or her portrayal of our heroine's doomed friend. Musician Lenny Kravitz, also African American, does a fine turn as Cinna, Katniss' supportive stylist.  Kravitz portrays Cinna as supportive and surreptitiously rebellious.  Those who criticize diversifying the cast, surely cannot quibble with their contributions to the story, and must have other issues that require some self-examination.
Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna. 
The Hunger Games does an excellent job of setting the stage for its sequel, "Catching Fire."  The death of one of the District 11 tributes (name withheld to prevent spoilers) sets that region to insurrection.  President Snow (Sutherland) quick to grasp dangers to his autocracy, challenges the Hunger Games master Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley,) when he uses the two young Region 12 tributes as a love interest to retain fan interest.  "I mean, everybody loves an underdog" said Crane.  " I don't," said Snow.  Knowing the regions could unite behind a sympathetic winner, Snow sees the cracks in the capital's dominance.

The Hunger Games is a great movie.  It's one of those sci-fi spectaculars that doesn't require that you read the book, though it wouldn't hurt.  With great storytelling and solid performances, it sets the stage for two more great movies to come.

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