In the right hands, the movie based on the best-selling Suzanne Collins novel “The Hunger Games” has the chance to bring to life a remarkable story with layers of meaning, heavy themes and high suspense, action and adventure.
Director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit”) provides those capable hands, and he backs his storytelling with a strong cast, outstanding set and costume designs and interesting filming.
The movie won't disappoint the millions of fans captivated by the best-seller about a society celebrating a gruesome reality show that presents children's deaths as entertainment. It also will hold the attention of those who haven't yet plowed through the series that includes three books.
The books are classified as young adult fiction, and the movie is likely to draw a teen and tween crowd despite its violence. However, the themes and adventure run deep, and they should and will attract a much broader audience than adolescents. Mix “Lord of the Flies” with George Orwell's “1984” with the ceremonious, brutal fighting of Roman gladiators in ancient times with today's reality TV, and you have an idea of the story you're getting.
“The Hunger Games” stars Jennifer Lawrence as the heroine Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the poor District 12, hunts illegally to provide food for her mom and sister after her dad dies, and becomes the young female “tribute” to represent her district in the Hunger Games. Josh Hutcherson is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son selected as District 12's male tribute.
Lawrence's acting is strong enough to carry the arena scenes in which she wields a bow and arrow in the beautiful woods of North Carolina, and the emotional scenes in which she has to convey the horror she is facing against the other tributes at the hands of the evil, futuristic Capitol.
Elizabeth Banks is Effie Trinket, the happy Capitol representative sent to escort Katniss and Peeta to the gruesome games. Banks captures the vacuousness of the Capitol residents perfectly and humorously with her garish costumes, colorful hairdos and upbeat, congratulatory remarks about participation in the Hunger Games. “Happy Hunger Games!” she wishes often and eerily.
To Trinket, as well as to Caesar Flickerman, the Games' creepy and affable host played by Stanley Tucci, and all Capitol residents, the Games represent an honor and an “American Idol”-like show; to Everdeen and Mellark, they are death. Donald Sutherland is the Capitol's President Snow, who understands how the Games help the government stay in power.
Woody Harrelson portrays Haymitch, District 12's sole winner whose role is to coach the tributes from there each year; he does so as a drunk with the right mix of aloofness and politicking skill.
The movie does not slow down from start to finish, and the action keeps the audience engaged in the story. The brutality from the books makes it into the movie and would be missing without it, but Ross chose a style of filming that doesn't dwell for too long on any one act of violence.
Ross develops most of the characters thoroughly, although viewers might wish the film took some time to linger, whether over the details shown in the design of the Capitol and its residents or over the back stories of some of the characters that the book's readers have come to know.
But there's only so much time to distill all the details from a book into a single movie, and Ross' choices of what to leave in and cut make sense. He does a great job of balancing the needs of telling a good, visually appealing action story and staying true to the book and its themes that offer commentary about society today.
— Lillie-Beth Brinkman
‘The Hunger Games'
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Dayo Okeniyi, Leven Rambin, Jack Quaid, Toby Jones, Jacqueline Emerson. (Intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens)