Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley , Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Stenberg
Synopsis: Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes“ must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her younger sister`s place to enter the games, and is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy when she`s pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives. If she`s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Review: ‘The Hunger Games’ is a beloved series of novels by Suzanne Collins. I can tell you first-hand that it was always destined to be adapted on celluloid. Now personally, I haven’t read the book. However, when most of the avid readers I know lauded this futuristic classic, I was convinced that it wasn’t going to be the last I hear about this franchise. So it didn’t come as any surprise to me when my editor sent me to go review the movie adaption of this already hyped title. And believe it or not, 2 hours and 20 minutes later, I had been converted from indifference to fanatic fandom.
The very premise of the film is enchanting to begin with. It’s an unspecified date in the future where North America has been renamed ‘Panem’, which means ‘bread’ in Latin. Signifying the deteriorating condition of a world rampant with hunger and squalor. Where the masses are suffering the wrath of the higher ups. The masses in this case, are the inhabitants of the 12 Districts that have been crushed under the tyrannical oppression of The Capitol: A place where opulence is abundant and where people live off the services provided by the 12 districts.
Way out in the depths of District 12, is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). A sixteen year-old lass who is skilled with a bow-and-arrow. After her father’s demise in a mining accident, Katniss lives her life almost exclusively to provide for her 12 year-old sister and emotionally rattled mother. She is unlike most female protagonists as we have seen in the past. She isn’t easy on the eyes and she isn’t supposed to be either.
Director Gary Ross does an astounding job when it comes to establishing her as a strong-willed young woman from the very start. She doesn’t crumble or even flinch before attempting to kill an adorable deer. She even shoots down flying birds with her bow. She isn’t demure and nor is she ladylike. She certainly is fierce and lethal though. However, this is in stark contrast to how caring and vulnerable she is when it comes to her family.
The Capitol has been rebelled against in the past by the districts. A war that certainly didn’t end well since it led to the supposed destruction of the 13th district over 70 years ago. So every year since, the Capitol reminds the districts why exactly they shouldn’t ever try to rebel again.
How do they strike fear in the districts, you may ask? Enter: Hunger Games. A brutal mix of survival skills and killer instinct. It pits a boy and a girl (picked through draw of lots) from each of the 12 districts to fight it out in an epic battle involving 24 teenagers, where they fight until only one sole survivor persists. The winner and his or her district gets food for the year. All this to let the people know that they are ‘taken care of’ by the Capitol.
Things take a turn for the worst for poor Katniss, when her beloved younger sister is unfortunately picked to fight in the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to participate in the games in place of her sister. Knowing well that sending her 12 year-old sister to fight against much older and stronger tributes (the name given to the competitors) would mean certain death. Katniss sacrifices her well-being to ensure the safety of her sibling. Leaving behind her family and best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss tries to stay poised. Shortly after, she and Petaa (Josh Hutcherson), her male tribute from District 12, are forced into a train to The Capitol. Upon reaching the Capitol and in their due course of getting there, they meet their mentor and only living member from District 12 to win the Hunger Games, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). Far from being a mentor, Haymitch is a drunkard and a perpetual pessimist. He further petrifies Katniss and Petaa.
However, Katniss and Petaa do make it to the Capitol eventually. More so, they eventually pick up the ropes of life in the lavishness. They are trained in combat, groomed in fashion and given everything they want since all but one of them is bound to survive. All this while trying hard not to lose themselves in the looming yet glamourous abyss of the flambuoyant Capitol life. Their representation from District 12, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is shrewd and pushes them to appear more likeable in order to get ‘sponsors’. The entire city is pepperd with blue-haired television show hosts, egoistical game-masters and pretentious low-lives. Extravagance is aplenty. However, there is an omnipresent gloom of misery all over. The movie makes you ask yourself the age old question: ‘What if I forced to kill another person to ensure my own survival?’ In Katniss and Petaa’s case, that question is vital. Since they eventually fall in love.
Director Gary Ross takes a lazy 70 minutes explaining the intricacies of Panem before the games finally begin. There are moments that will make your eyes moist. Moments where you’ll jump out of your seat in excitement. And even moments where you’ll cringe. The sight of watching a horde of kids hunting other kids while cheering and hollering as if they were playing a friendly game of tag is too dark for most to handle. Yes, some parts are especially spine-chilling. However, it’s all been packaged beautifully. What’s amazing is there are dozens of various plots that are marvelously woven into the screenplay without it becoming too complicated.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdine is a special talent. I’ve thought highly of her acting skills ever since 2010’s ‘Winter’s Bone’. This former Oscar nominee certainly proves her mettle yet again in a challenging role that she plays with understated panache. She carries the film on her shoulders throughout. Of course, having a stellar cast that includes legends like Woody Harrelson helps. He portrays the drunk and depressive mentor in this film, and with his ebullient charm, actually manages to make the character likable. Josh Hutcherson as Petaa is brilliant in parts but is overshadowed by his leading lady. Special mention must be given to Elizabeth Banks who I couldn’t recognize through most of the film. She’s played Effie Trinket, a role that will be remembered for a long time simply because of the way she carried off that make up. Remarkable performance by her and by most of the cast. The teenagers in the game were especially laudable. Lenny Kravitz was fun to watch in his little cameo as well.
Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) has struck gold with this movie adaption of ‘The Hunger Games’. I have been moved by his work in the past and he hasn’t disappointed me this time around either. His execution is par brilliance and his close-ups when capturing Katniss’s intensity is something I especially enjoyed. The special effects are also top-notch. While the movie does have all the right details, all the right scenes, fine acting and cinematography, there is just one minor criticism. It’s simply missing that extra spark. The gloomy approach is fine and safe. However, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps a director more experienced with lavish and imaginary spectacles could have handled the ‘oomph’ of the film a bit better.
I think this review would be incomplete if I didn’t give due credit to the unsung heroes behind making these characters so ambient: The Make-up artists. The look of each character is astoundingly appealing and the whacky hair dos and over-the-top facial intricacies are an absolute cherry on the cake.
Verdict: With it’s sequel, ‘Catching Fire’ already set to release in 2013, ‘The Hunger Games’ series has the potential to match up to the level of franchises like ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘Twilight’. The dark humour, the over-the-top characters, the fantasy warfare and the power of love; It’s an absolute delight to watch.
Jackie J. Thakkar