Review- The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games (Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games, as many expected, was one of the most anticipated films of the year. It will likely go down as one of the top earners of the year as its early run totals rank amongst all time highs, and it’s a three-time box office champion. I wanted to read the books but never really did, I borrowed the first book from the library and got through half of the first chapter and didn’t get to renew it. Therefore, I had little foundation to go upon but found the film for the most part to be quite enjoyable and captivating.

The double-edged sword in this film is that the backstory of this world, this dystopian future where America is unrecognizable and not even named as such anymore, is not overtly told. The positive to that is that there are not really any overly-elongated and elaborate expository sequences and the negative is that at times you are left flailing about awaiting the next tidbit of information that will enlighten you. You eventually do get sufficient information to get by but you also get the sense that there are unplumbed depths that are likely the key to the book’s success.

The only other truly significant struggle this film faces is in the game itself Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is steadfast in her character but she only attacks her opponents when in a bind, which is admirable but there is much waiting, hiding and running. Essentially, it’s a slight editorial problem more so than a character flaw. Virtue is a positive and Katniss has it in spades there were just a few opportunities that are better off not presenting themselves if that is to be her approach.

Those minor reproaches aside there is a lot to like in The Hunger Games. Perhaps the best part of the film’s success is that now everyone can see just how awesome Jennifer Lawrence is. She already has an Oscar nomination that she was very worthy of, but it was Natalie Portman’s year, for which she was woefully under-publicized and Winter’s Bone is not the kind of draw that this film is. In a similar vain, I’ve known for quite some time that Josh Hutcherson would be a superstar and this is truly his breakout. Now, Josh has a long track record from the Journey series, to appearing in the Best Picture Nominated The Kids Are All Right, to his early days as a young performer that garnered him a BAM nomination for Bridge to Terabithia, however, here as Peeta, a character who knows the game better than Katniss at the start but isn’t as steadfast or strong-willed as she is, he brings his chops to a big vehicle. That could be the most impressive facet of the film; not only is there action and commentary but also room for performances. You should also look for Stanley Tucci’s great supporting turn.

Aside from the aforementioned concern in the Game the film’s pace stays rather brisk even if its running time tops two hours. The tale is a bifurcated one: before the games and the games themselves and they are distinctive sections of the film that are a bit different but they balance quite well. The before the games section builds up some good drama and anticipation and to an extent the game brings good sequences and tension.

The Hunger Games also presents a pretty interesting vision of a futureworld most vividly conveyed by the production design, which is amazing and also the makeup and costuming. Now the latter is not something I was not instantly enamored with but it was a bold and consistent choice and it is a class distinction that is a kind of interesting future-retro hybrid, as the exaggerated hair and makeup hearkens eons past where powdered wigs and ivory faces were status symbols.

The ending of the film foreshadows much larger hurdles and problems to come in the series that even teases it will grow outside just the insular world of the Games and branch out into the politics of this world. Perhaps the upcoming installments will fill in some of the nagging blanks.

When a film does a lot very well the few things that leave you wondering do tend to stand out a little more than they would otherwise but this is a very enjoyable, occasionally funny, romantic, dramatic and thrilling film.

8/10

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