Young kids, chosen by lottery, kill one another with kill-or-be-killed desperation in The Hunger Games full movie.
The savagery is a yearly ritual mandated by the tyrannical regime of Panem, a broken nation built, after a terrible war, on the futuristic ruins of North America. It’s also broadcast on live TV, a national media event. This terrible vision of a near future in which teenagers are in peril is disturbing, but the individual heroism of some who fight is also engaging, as millions of readers can attest: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy is a literary phenomenon. The good news now coming out of Panem, both for those who already know just how ruthless the Games become and those who are new to the dystopian story, is that the film version knows how to play too.
The Hunger Games is a strong, honorable, fearless translation of Collins’ vision. It’s brutal where it needs to be, particularly when children fight and bleed. It delivers both the pains of the oppressed, represented by the poorly fed and clothed people of Panem’s 12 suffering districts, and the rotted values of the oppressors, shown clear in the gaudy decadence of those who reside in the Capitol. Best of all, the movie effectively showcases the allure of the story’s remarkable, kick-ass 16-year-old heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss — who volunteers to fight the game in place of her little sister, Primrose as one of District 12’s two unfortunate “tributes” when the little girl is chosen — is the heart and soul of the tale, one of those feisty heroines pitched to the YA market but appealing to adults as well.
Katniss feels the happiest when she’s hunting food for her family with the bow-and-arrow precision that is her talent. She’s a tomboy with a trademark brunet braid down her back, and she’s a graceful young girl — strong, self-possessed, and unaware of her unique beauty, whether dressed like a backwoods scout or dolled up for beauty pageant display in mesmerizing gowns.
And Jennifer Lawrence, previously dressed as a backwoods scout in her galvanizing breakout, Winter’s Bone, is, in her gravity, her intensity, and her own unmannered beauty, about as impressive a Hollywood incarnation of Katniss as one could ever imagine. Much of Katniss’ experience throughout the Games — as she improvises with an ingenuity far beyond the scope of any TV Survivor contestant — is interior, silent. Lawrence is expressive in her calmness, and moves with athletic confidence.
Fans of the book and moviegoers coming to the story fresh may reach different conclusions about the effectiveness of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, the baker’s son from District 12 who is at once Katniss’ competitor and the boy who loves her. In the book, interesting edges rough up his niceness; he’s not quite so easy to peg.
But to these eyes, on screen he’s been sanded down to a generic sensitive good guy, so much so that it’s difficult to understand why Katniss is prickly around him. At the same time, so little is seen of Liam Hemsworth playing Gale, Katniss’ soul mate/fellow hunter, in this first entry that the uninitiated might not pay attention to the third aspect of the story’s romantic triangle — about the only element this high-quality pop culture sensation has in common with the swoons of The Twilight Saga.
Director Gary Ross does a solid job of establishing the future-meets-1984 vibe in Panem: the slog of daily life, the hopelessness that pulls the citizens down, the fear that returns each year at The Hunger Games lottery called the Reaping. Aided by outré costumes from designer Judianna Makovsky, he also goes to town in the Capitol sequences. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie Trinket the PR guru, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch the mentor, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna the stylist, Stanley Tucci as Caesar the unctuous TV interviewer — they’re all reasonable facsimiles of what’s on the book, and fabulous oddities for those who are just meeting them.