Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“Prim! I volunteer! I volunteer as Tribute!,” screams Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) to save her little sister who’s just been chosen by a lottery to compete in the yearly national televised death match in which ‘Tributes’ fight one another to the death until one survivor remains in a futuristic society in The Hunger Games.
Every year in what used to be North America and is now only 12 districts governed by a tyrannical Capitol, two children – a boy and a girl, varying in age from 12 to 18 – are selected to train and fight to the death from each district as continued punishment and intimidation for a past uprising. Joining Katniss in the games from her district, 12, is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son and an intelligent young man who’s convinced that he doesn’t stand a chance but that Katniss, a self-trained hunter and tracker, might actually win.
While traveling on the fastest train in the world to the Capitol, where the Games are organized each year, Katniss and Peeta meet their mentor and trainer for the upcoming competition, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). He was champion years ago in the Games and is supposed to give them a fighting chance against some of the other better off competitors who have had the opportunity to train for the Games their whole lives.
Once at the Capitol, both Katniss and Peeta are overwhelmed by the attention they receive from a television-viewing public as well as all the glitz and glamour involved in putting on the show. Haymitch has told both of them any hope of survival greatly depends on them making a good impression and becoming liked so that they can get sponsors who’ll help them by sending them medicine or supplies needed while they compete in the Games.
After spending weeks training and getting ready, finally it’s time for the Games to begin for a terrified Katniss and Peeta.
Dramatic and suspenseful, The Hunger Games is a science fiction thriller that has a strong cast led by the incredibly talented Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance as Katniss, the big sister who enters into games to save her little sister from certain death and then does all she can to try to keep her promise of winning, is powerful and moving. The true terror she shows in her eyes and her body as she trembles with fright as she is about to be lifted up onto the Games beginning open area is an unforgettable and horrifying scene. Lawrence also has solid chemistry with both Harrelson as her mentor and Hutcherson as Peeta, the young man who has always secretly loved her from afar. Their past is a difficult and complex one.
Woody Harrelson delivers what could be his best performance in years as the boozy Haymitch. It’s clear very early on he is in self-loathing mode for allowing himself to become part of the blood hungry show, but as he mentors his two protégés, he begins to find himself rooting and caring for them – even to the point of going above and beyond his role trying to help them survive during the Games. It’s one of the more complex and interesting characters he’s played in a long time.
Another stand-out performance is delivered by Stanley Tucci as the sleazy crowd-pleasing host of the Games, Caesar Flickerman. He portrays Caesar with just the right amount of bravado and false sincerity that’s sure to remind the audience of a few current talk show hosts.
The look and production of the film is top notch, capturing the differences between each of the Districts, the common people and how out of touch and malevolent The Capitol is to its own people.
Perhaps the only weakness to the film is the over used jerky shaky camera effect during the fight and chase scenes. Obviously the director Gary Ross did this to minimize the graphic and violent fights to the death in order to obtain and keep the PG-13 rating for the film. Unfortunately, it makes many of those scenes almost impossible to follow what is happening and to see who is fighting who.
Thrilling, shocking and touching, The Hunger Games is Survivor, The Most Dangerous Game and The Truman Show wrapped up all into one film. It’s sure to be the first big blockbuster of the year and it will have the audience rooting and cheering for Katniss to be victorious and make it back home to her little sister.
The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 23, 2012.