Film Review: The Hunger Games
By Garrett Coffman
“The Hunger Games,” in the not-too distant future, a brutal civil war ravishes the continent we know as North America, and in its place springs a country called Panem, a dystopian nation divided into twelve districts under the totalitarian regime of The Capitol. For repentance of the uprisings, and to flex their power over the districts, the Capitol randomly selects one girl and one boy from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death in a televised melee called The Hunger Games.
The action of the Games makes very generous use of shaky camera shots and quick-cuts to keep the film well within the confines of a PG-13, despite the film’s dark nature. Director Gary Ross’s decision to turn this into a sleeker affair wins him points for turning the “children-turned-gladiators” story into a family-friendly affair, taking the sting out of the murders. I can’t hold it against him that the film never becomes too agonizing — had things been drawn out any more an R rating would be certain — but his adaptation also saps the film of the intensity that made Suzanne Collin’s novel such a success. The constant unease and omnipresence of danger is part of why the novel so riveting. Here, that feeling is all but lost: the thrills are too few, too far in-between and too tame.
Where Ross fails in his efforts to tame the Games down, he more than makes up for in storytelling. The film is smartly written, in large part due to its already solid source material, and excels in its swift pacing. Ross and screenwriter Billy Ray deserve credit for elegantly adapting Collin’s 374 page novel into a two-and-a-half hour film and hardly missing a beat. There are some hiccups: most of the scenes involving the Gamemakers back at the studio seemed unnecessary to me, nor did I understand why Head Gamemaker Seneca “Crazy Beard Guy” Crane (Wes Bentley) needed so much screen time. Although, kudos to Ross as well for expertly creating a distinct look and feel that accurate reflects the tone of the books. The 1930‘s Depression-era aesthetic of District 12 made a perfect contrast to the almost neo-Roman look of the Capitol which was an excellent and inspired way to bring the story to life.
The entire main cast here is brilliant and everyone (Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Hemsworth, and Elizabeth Banks) makes solid turns that I’m sure will please even the most skeptical fans. Yet the true star here is Jennifer Lawrence who handles herself with the ease of a longtime pro. The film’s success lies squarely on the already Oscar nominated 21 year old’s shoulders, and she pumps out a riveting and star-making performance as steely protagonist Katniss Everdeen with confidence to spare. Her portrayal of Katniss shows a stunning determination to not only survive and win the Games, but hold onto her humanity while doing so.
At the midnight premiere I attended, nearly everyone I saw walked out with a certain sense of satisfaction but also a hint of disappointment. No, this film is not as great as its millions of fans hoped it would be. However, this is still a smart and well-made action thriller. If the mammoth-sized crowd at the midnight premiere I attended was any indication, “The Hunger Games” will, as predicted, see the biggest grossing opening weekend and become Hollywood’s next blockbuster franchise. And I think it deserves every bit of success it is sure to get.