The Hunger Games – 2012
Director Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Paula Malcomson, Willow Shields
Screenplay Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray based on the novel by Collins
There are several moments throughout the movie, The Hunger Games, where Jennifer Lawrence wordlessly expresses emotions and thought processes that took pages upon boring pages to express in Collins’ book. Her decision to wait out the other “contestants” in the game was not a hard one, but it could have been difficult to translate. Director Ross makes a wise choice when he goes with Lawrence’s countenance for a description.
The Hunger Games as a book, was somewhat laborious and overwrought. The premise was described as a future society after a big war and another failed rebellion. The country of the United States is now 12 districts, part of a hegemony, under a dictator and mostly in squalor. It is no more far-fetched, I suppose, than anything out there. The advantage that the book has is that in district 12, which is where Katniss lives, is mostly the equivalent of a small town. If this is representative of the rest of the country, then the country must be down to about 5000 people.
As the premise goes, Ross makes due and makes the story move with clarity where necessary (the game controllers) and inference where most people can connect the dots. There are no slow moments in The Hunger Games. While there are moments where the story lets down and comes across as hokey (the Effie (Banks) character, almost entirely), Ross was able to pull the character of Haymitch (Harrelson) completely out of the ditch into a relevant and wily character. My wife thinks Woody Harrelson deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal. I think that Ross deserves half of that Oscar.
One place where the performance meets the story is in the person of Cinna as portrayed by Kravitz. A smartly written character in the novel, his look and his demeanor is not what I expected, but it works just as well, adding depth to the story and hinting at the future of the story.
The action scenes in the last half of the film flow much more steadily than they do in the book. Katniss is clever, but not super heroic. As her journey continues, you see her evolve and see her begin to formulate a new idea out of her frustration and desperation.
Overall, this is a good flight of fancy, made serious enough by the screenplay and direction as to be watchable time and again. For every goofy hairdo and sleepwalked Donald Sutherland appearance (does he have any other by this point) you have many other good things going on. This gets me closer to reading the second book than the first book ever did.
(**** out ******)