Title: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth
Release Date: Out now
It would be rather cynical to write The Hunger Games off as some unholy bastardisation of Battle Royale and Twilight, and while one can see why such a connection is being made, director Gary Moss and his cast, led by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class), have created something far more enriching than such a label would suggest.
The Hunger Games is set in the post-apocalyptic land of Panem and begins with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) offering to enter the Hunger Games in place of her beloved sister, Primrose. The Games are an annual competition in which twenty-four adolescents representing the twelve districts of Panem must fight to the death, inspiring obedience to the nation’s oppressive government among the citizenry; the film then follows Katniss and her fellow ‘tributes’ as they train and battle in the Games.
As the first film adaptation from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of young adult novels, Games has to carry a lot of expositionary weight in its 142 minute running time, but rarely does it get bogged down in its plotting. If anything, one can too clearly see where cuts and changes have been made to make it a suitable fit for the silver screen. Characters and subplots are regularly left undercooked, and potential emotional moments are left wanting as a result, while the fledgling relationship between Katniss and fellow ‘tribute’ Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is played up to generic standards and threatens to topple the entire film at points.
Ross is able to ground this fantasy world of garish aesthetic and socio-economic extremes with some resemblance to contemporary times, and the film is generally a visual delight, however, its numerous action scenes are framed somewhat poorly by contemporary standards.
The sheer omnipresence of Katniss can be held partly responsible for the film’s shortcomings, but Lawrence more than makes up for this with a powerhouse performance worthy of the adulation she has garnered since her Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. While many other characters are left as shadows and convenient archetypes, Katniss appears fully formed, and though there are times when the audience is merely told of how strong and independent she is, Lawrence is more than up to the task when asked to prove it; she imbues Katniss with equal measures of ferocity and vulnerability in what is truly a star-making turn.
In a Nutshell: A flawed yet commendable blockbuster, anchored by a staggering lead performance.