Josh Wilding Reviews: THE HUNGER GAMES
Hit the jump for my take on the film which many are already predicting will be the biggest of 2012. Does it live up to the hype or is worth avoiding as much as the next Twilight film? Find out here. [Minor Spoilers Ahead]
The plot of The Hunger Games is fairly straightforward. As punishment for an uprising which took place an undisclosed number of years ago, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each of the twelve districts to compete in the annual Hunger Games. The twelfth is home to Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers for the Games after her younger sister is selected in the raffle process known as the "reaping". There is a stark contrast between this bleak, impoverished location (which is eerily similar to that of another Jennifer Lawrence film, Winter's Bone) and the futuristic capitol city which the duo are soon whisked off to by Elizabeth Banks' delightfully shrill and eccentric Effie Trinket. Her brightly coloured clothing, hair and make-up are entirely out of place in comparison to the dull, washed out clothing of the District 12 citizens but we soon see that this is how everyone looks in the capitol. Although the story is set in a fictional nation (Panem) and a clearly futuristic setting, this difference of appearance is clearly meant to reflect the wealth and class divide; something which to an extent feels a little too forced.
Regardless of what we see on the surface, what becomes even more apparent is what a twisted world this truly is. The story is extremely effective in showing this, especially when it becomes clear that these people love the Hunger Games and pay no mind to the fact that children are being sent to their deaths. This is reality TV gone too far, and there are some very interesting parallels to our world which sets The Hunger Games a million miles apart from the irrelevant and inaccurate Twilight comparisons. Although a younger audience will certainly enjoy the film, the grown up themes on offer mean that you will have plenty to think about once the credits role. The build up to the beginning of the Games is a fairly slow one, but this is by no means a bad thing. Instead, it gives us time to explore the world and get to know the characters well. While the majority of the 24 youngsters remain reasonably anonymous, we end up learning all we really need to know about those who do have a role in the story as the film progresses. There is simply no need and not enough time for every single one of them to be properly introduced and the script handles this well by ensuring that what we do see of them is relevant to Katniss' story.
As the Hunger Games begin, the harsh reality of the situation begins to set in and bodies begin to fall. From this point, there's something for everyone. Action, emotion and even a love story of sorts all take place within the Games. While the plot itself may not be the most groundbreaking of concepts, that matters very little thanks to the fascinating characters who populate the world created by author Suzanne Collins. The film is anchored around Katniss and she is brought to life brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence. The actress creates a likeable and sympathetic character, delivering a powerful performance in the process. Josh Hutcherson delivers an impressive performance as Peeta, while supporting actors Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland are all on fine form. They each end up playing a fairly pivotal role in proceedings and for the most part add even more depth to their characters thanks to what they each individually bring to the roles. However, it's Stanly Tucci who really shines as the eccentric host of the Games, Caesar Flickerman, in a wonderfully over the top performance which thankfully never becomes too silly. It's hard to find fault with anyone in The Hunger Games as even the younger cast members (Amanda Stenberg as Rue in particlar) do a great job. Liam Hemsworth also proves to be as likeable a screen presence as his older brother (you know him as a certain Marvel God of Thunder) and its a shame that his role is ultimately a fairly minor one.
To compensate for the fact that this is a film which can't go too overboard with the violence, director Gary Ross has shot and cut the film in a way which still allows for a suitable amount of shock in some fairly brutal moments. If the film falls down anywhere, it's with just how vague it is at times. We see the organisers of the Games pulling strings (they somehow have the ability to start fires or release viscious dogs into the arena) but the real reason for why they are doing this is never that clear. We understand that they want to make sure someone heads a certain direction or need to spice things up, but it still would have been nice to explore this to an even larger degree. We meet Sutherland's President Snow at a few key moment and despite the fact that he's clearly meant to be the villain of the piece, he's never fleshed out enough for us to really care all that much. These are only really minor complaints, but are undeniably a little frustrating. The CGI is, for the most part, flawless and a powerful score really lends itself well to the edge of your seat action. Ross handles the film well, but the grounded nature of the arena means that some of the slightly more "science fictiony" parts feel out of place and the drastic change in tone sometimes pulls you out of the story we're supposed to be invested in - Katniss'.
Despite a few minor flaws, this is a well acted and exciting adaptation. Gary Ross has created a world which thoroughly invests you in both the story and characters. By the time it finishes, you will be counting down the days to the sequel and rushing out to buy the books. A must-see.
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