Lincoln’s Movie Night: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and more

Walking in, I tried to view The Hunger Games as a film critic, not as a fan of the book. I’ve come to accept that no matter how popular a series is, be it Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Twilight (haven’t seen that last one, just an example), fans of the book sometimes come out disappointed that their favorite scene, line of dialogue, or character was cut from the screen.

Walking out, I felt assured that all but the pickiest fans were coming away satisfied.

Set in a future North America, The Hunger Games tells the story of twelve districts who, for the last 74 years, have had to send one boy and one girl each to the Capitol for a televised fight to the death. This gladiator combat cum reality television is a punishment for a failed revolution, a tongue in cheek slap to the districts each time a Capitol-dweller, colorful and vapid as peacocks, utters the Games slogan ‘May the Odds be Ever in your Favor’.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, the District 12 tribute who, when her 12-year old sister is chosen, volunteers. A woods savvy huntress, she’s joined on stage by soft, baker’s son Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, as her opposite number. As they stare down death, the two find friendship and a shared revolutionary spirit in one another. A love triangle is completed by Katniss’ friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) but this is in no way a Twilight rehash.

For one thing, Lawrence plays Katniss as a capable and individual young woman. From her volunteering onward, Katniss confounds everyone, impressing her drunken mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), shocking the committee in charge of ranking the tributes, yet being a kindly enough presence to befriend Rue, a young girl who reminds her of her own sister. Lawrence demands attention and is capable enough to prove that her Oscar-nomination was no fluke.

The rest of the cast performs adequately, though with few standouts. Hutcherson could have just phoned in a doughy, puppy dog eyed Peeta, but manages to bring a little more to the role when given the chance. Harrelson’s Haymitch walks a weird line between comedic drunk and responsible mentor, with no defined moment for when he makes the switch. The tributes, for the most part, are disposable and are treated as such, though this is not out of keeping with the book. The few that Katniss interacts with directly are slightly better, but even then each is almost cookie-cutter in their motivations. However, two of the Capitol Dwellers, Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna and Elizabeth Banks as daft spokeswoman Effie, shine. Kravitz, in his few scenes, brings a depth of character and intelligence that begs for a larger role, while Banks is a perfect representation of the Capitol, oblivious to the pain she causes and hideous with doll-like plastic surgery.

One of the problems that confounds a production like this is the violence. How can a film about children brutally killing one another be done without turning into another Battle Royale (a comparison harsh critics gleefully jump upon)? Director Gary Ross handles this deftly, a shaking camera and quick cuts turning the visible gore and brutality into fleeting did-I-really-see-that moments. The CGI is handled in the same manner, sparingly used and allowing for a feeling of reality to pervade the entire thing.

Is the movie perfect? No, there are things left out of course. Characters who have a strong emotional impact in the book become borderline deus ex-machinas with barely 20 minutes here and sticklers will of course find the origins of Katniss’ eventual nickname to be “terribly wrong”, to quote someone I heard leaving the theater. However, if you go in expecting a brutal, beautiful and well acted piece of cinema that reflects upon modern attitudes of war, entertainment and revolution in an entertaining manner, you’re not going to leave disappointed.