Love it or hate it; Hunger Games is here
By Tim Pompey 04/05/2012
The Hunger Games
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens
2 hrs. 22 mins.
What kind of movie is this? Sci-fi? Futuristic thriller? Teen romance? Social commentary? I think the answer is yes to all of the above, but even these labels can’t quite describe what you’re watching. Hunger Games is a reality show — a cross between American Gladiators and Big Brother with some bloody death, coming-of age-romance and Man vs. Wild thrown in.
Set in a country called Panem, a post-apocalyptic U.S. that has been divided into 12 districts, the Capitol city looks futuristic and modern. And the upper-crust residents who live there? Well, let’s just say they’ve been imbibing too much Parisian fashion. But the folks in the outback, the coal miners from District 12? They’re straight out of the mid-20th century.
As the story goes, a former 13th District rebelled against the Capitol and was crushed. Now as punishment, each remaining area must hold an annual lottery drawing and choose two “tributes” between the ages of 12 and 18 to represent the district. It’s a fight to the death held in the Capitol and televised nationwide, a gigantic bloody Super Bowl. Twenty-four kids are chosen. Only one will survive.
During the 74th annual drawing, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is horrified when her younger sister’s name is called. She immediately volunteers in her sister’s place and is whisked off to the Capitol to be trained for battle, along with her fellow 12th District tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Together, they set off on a strange, deadly contest. It’s Roman games for futuristic Romans.
This is a frustrating movie to watch. The premise — a movie about kids killing kids — is quite disturbing. Yes, it’s a PG-13 film, but the idea of child warriors fighting to the death might lead some parents to wonder about the film’s rating.
Furthermore, director Gary Ross has chosen to edit this film as if you were riding in the back of an old Rambler with bad shocks on a very bumpy road. The first 15 minutes gave me a headache.
And then there’s the meandering plot. The film takes almost an hour to get rolling and raises more questions than it answers. For instance: Why exactly is this event called “the Hunger Games?” And why would parents willingly sit by while their children are chosen to slaughter each other?
Yet, in spite of these problems, there is at least one riveting reason to watch this film: Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence has a face born to be on film. Since her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, she has more than proved that she can convey resolute determination, anger and tenderness, all in a single shot. It’s said the window to the soul is through the eyes. That’s especially true in her case. She’s tough, she’s sweet, she’s a fighter and a lover. In movie parlance, she’s “it.”
There are also some good performances by her co-stars, most notably Hutcherson as the love-struck Peeta, Woody Harrelson as a haunted Haymitch Abernathy and Donald Sutherland as Snow, the Machiavellian president of Panem.
Hunger Games does have insight, especially when it comes to the relationship between the television and its audience. Its roots are firmly planted in today’s reality shows. And once it finally kicks into action, it does keep a good pace and finds a way to be entertaining.
Still, have you ever noticed people who bring too much baggage to the airport? You wonder how they’re going to get all their stuff on the plane. So goes this film. It’s loaded with baggage. If you can work around it, there are some good moments. But kids killing kids. If you’re not disturbed by that premise, I’ll bet you’ve fallen asleep in your seat.