Film Review – The Hunger Games

Newsroom 09/04/2012 | 09:58

Post-apocalyptic America. The dystopian new world order consists of a wealthy capital surrounded by twelve poverty-stricken urban districts. Every year, a young man and woman from each of the districts are selected at random to fight to the death in a glitzy televised contest, presented by a camp host and watched by a flamboyantly dressed live audience. Think of it as Gladiator meets the Eurovision Song Contest.

Debbie Stowe

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a poor 16-year-old from the outlying twelfth district, becomes the Hunger Games’ first ever volunteer when her puny little sister’s name is picked. Off she goes on a bullet train to the capital, with fellow “tribute” Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and their trainer Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), an ageing drunk who won the games in his youth.

So, we have attractive, hormonal teenagers killing each other in order to survive. Can there be a better premise for a Hollywood blockbuster aimed at the youth market? Doesn’t look like it – The Hunger Games has left shattered box office records in its wake like so many slaughtered teens. (No, that’s not in bad taste as this is the exact premise of the movie.)

But before you dismiss the whole thing as teenybopper tripe, be informed: this is that rare vehicle – a blockbuster with a bit of smarts about it, an action flick with some seriousness behind the attitude.

Firstly, because of the protagonist. In a big-budget, mainstream movie, our hero is a 16-year-old girl, and it’s the boys who fill the supporting “worried love-interest back home” and “sidekick who needs saving” roles. (Okay, Angelina Jolie makes the odd gun-totin’, butt-kickin’ outing, but that’s always more male fantasy fulfillment than serious storytelling, while respectable action heroines like Trinity and Terminator’s Sarah Connor usually play second fiddle to men.)

Secondly, because of the social comment. No, it’s not Dickens level exploration, but a major theme of the movie is economic inequality and its effects on the poor. The rise of reality TV, and the cruelty and inhumanity with which it pits participants against each other, is also questioned.

For a teen film, the performances are impressively mature, with Lawrence holding her own alongside star names such as Harrelson and Donald Sutherland (as a cynical elder), and none of the young supporting cast look out of their depth. Other highlights are the rich depiction of the film’s world – from the hardscrabble outer districts to the lavish capital and the idyllic forest in which the tributes are sent to mercilessly destroy each other.

At 142 minutes, The Hunger Games could be tauter – it’s a long time before we actually reach the start of the games – and though there is some closure the film has a somewhat unfinished feel. Of course this is due to the impending sequels (the source material is a trilogy of novels). Though it doesn’t play everything by the book, this is still a Hollywood blockbuster at heart, so expect contrived plot, clichés and predictability.

But like its protagonist, the picture delivers more than you are given to expect, including a powerful punch.

Director: Gary Ross

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz

On: Cinema  City Cotroceni, Cinema City Cotroceni – Sala VIP, Cinema City Sun Plaza, Grand Cinema Digiplex Baneasa, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex Cinema, The Light Cinema

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