The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The phenomenon of The Hunger Games novels - a triplet of fantasy books aimed at 12s and up - has somehow passed me by until now. So, like the unfortunate competitors in Suzanne Collins' story, I came to the film adaptation with nothing but the clothes I stood up in. The good news is that having no prior knowledge of this smart and occasionally brutal - though not overly graphic - tale doesn't stop it from being a winner.

This is, in large part, thanks to a grippping performance from Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a heroine who, unlike many female protagonists before her, stands fiercely front and centre without playing second fiddle to the opposite sex. The sort of heroine who is self-resourceful and smart, she is also refreshingly morally ambiguous - less a paragon of virtue than someone who, when pushed to the edge, will do what has to be done to stay alive. In other words, she's normal, which is what makes her so compelling.

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Katniss lives in District 12 of futuristic dystopia Panem (presumably culled from the Roman "panem et circenses" - the suggestion of giving the rabble bread and circuses to keep them in line). After a quashed rebellion across many of the land's outlying districts, the populace are kept on the verge of starvation and as a yearly reminder of their 'folly', those in the affluent and decadent capital have created an annual event pitching child against child - The Hunger Games. Each District, from one to 12, holds a sort of tombola of death - disturbingly named The Reaping - with the number of tickets every child between 12 and 18 has in the draw increasing with age. Each year, the names of one boy and one girl are pulled out to join 22 from the other districts in a reality show survival game, set in a computer-generated and manipulated rural landscape, from which only one will return alive.

When her young sister Primrose becomes the unluckiest girl in the district, bow-and-arrow savvy Katniss volunteeers in her stead and finds herself thrust into a world that is half beauty pageant, half gladitorial contest, alongside local baker's lad Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who just might hold a bit of a candle for her.

Gary Ross's film is broody and tense from the outset, when we see Katniss hunting in the forest to supplement her family's meagre diet. Kinetic camerwork gives a sense of immediacy while Lawrence brings a similar complex mix of fear and grit to Katniss to that she first brewed in Sundance indie hit Winter's Bone. The rural poverty stands in stark contrast to the frivolousness of the upper-classes from the city - as embodied by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who comes across as a sinister cross between Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child catcher and a pantomime dame, when she whisks the children away to their probable death.

The life-or-death nature of Katniss and Peeta's plight is also emphasised by their unfortunate allotment of mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a drunk who clearly carries the mental scars of surviving the games when 23 others didn't. Although lacking a little pace in the early stages set in the city, the lengthy runtime passes surprisingly quickly and allows for an enjoyable amount of character development.

Of course, fights to the death in the name of TV entertainment are nothing new - Battle Royale, Running Man, Roller Ball, Series 7: The Contenders and others have all brought variations on the theme. But the target audience for Hunger Games is unlikely to have seen those earlier incarnations of the story and Ross avoids the hyperbole of gore and mayhem to keep the emotions of what is happening so near the bone it hurts.

While there is carnage - half of the contestants meet their end in a brief, brutal scuffle as soon as the competitors are thrust into the woods - it is messy and fleetingly viewed, giving you a sense of its awfulness, as the viewers' appetites move on. This is a film fuelled by dread, anxiety and a sense that difficult choices may have to be made when the odds are this heavily stacked against you.

With unsettling echoes from the real world - from public blood lust to media run riot to young soldiers being sent off to fight and despotic governments quashing rebellions with force, a sense of fear and a complete disregard for age - Ross's film offers plenty of food for thought.

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2012
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The Hunger Games packshot
Set in a dystopian future, a young boy and girl must fight to the death on live television.
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Read more The Hunger Games reviews:

Sophie Monks Kaufman ****
Stephen Carty **1/2

Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross, Billy Ray, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stanley Tucci, Leven Rambin, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley

Year: 2012

Runtime: 142 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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