The Hunger Games | Film review
Jennifer Lawrence does sharp work in the first chapter of a soon-to-be-major sci-fi franchise.
Even if you know nothing of Panem, mockingjays and Katniss Everdeen, skip this darkly suggestive first chapter of a soon-to-be-major sci-fi franchise at your own risk. The source material is a young-adult series—Suzanne Collins’s three-book juggernaut—but you won’t be sharing a theater row with Team Jacob squealers. After the lights dim and our heroine (a courageous Jennifer Lawrence) shivers with nausea—she’s about to enter a televised blood match to the death—go ahead and shed a tear of worry. It’s earned.
The Hunger Games, both on page and now as a vital, faithful movie, is an open window onto teenage anxiety. It takes place in the future, but call it today: a hopeless post-America riven by wide disparities of wealth and distracted by reality TV. A repressive government keeps the citizenry in line by drafting randomly selected children into an annual gladiatorial contest. Add in a streak of media savvy and hyperawareness of the camera among the “tributes,” and you cringe at what our high schoolers are steeling themselves for.
All of this has made it onscreen as a piece of PG-13 Hollywood entertainment. Boldly, The Hunger Games is targeted at the same Project Runway generation that serves as its cannon fodder, a subversive proposition: It’s a big-budget film that could expose more viewers to a vision of their own exploitation than any Battle Royale.
The ramp-up to the Games is when director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) has the most fun. After Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister, she and district-mate Peeta (the serviceable Josh Hutcherson) are whisked off to the Capitol. They sit for oily interviews with Stanley Tucci’s blue-haired host and meet their alcoholic trainer, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). If the movie had a lead actress more delicate or malleable than Lawrence, it would tip over into sexy-girl-killer celebration; the same goes for Harrelson’s salty mentor, who is never too supportive or paternal. The Hunger Games may cause you to blanch—with their impalings and chased desperation, the killings are hardly subtle. Can this really be what the kids are reading? It is, and we should get used to it.