For legions of people, The Hunger Games is the most anticipated movie release of the year. And for a movie released so early in 2012, that’s saying something. Based on the book of the same title (read my review here), The Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl living in a post-apocalyptic America where hunger and oppression ruled, where hunting for rodents was the way to keep your family alive and where every day represents a fight for your life.
This post-apocalyptic America is the country of Panem, governed by the Capitol which oversees twelve districts, making sure they are stripped down to the bare necessities. Those twelve districts had been thirteen that rebelled against the Capitol’s oppression. They lost the war and are still paying the price, the heaviest of which is the annual Hunger Games which require each district to send a young man and woman, for a total of 24, to battle each other to the death. There can only be one victor. “May the odds be ever in your favor” is the sentence the tributes keep hearing as if odds will help them on the brink of death.
When her sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers in her place and is taken along with the male tribute of District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), to the Capitol where they are groomed like lambs for slaughter in an attempt to make an impression which can make it or break it for them once the games fall upon them. And fall they do, with devastating consequences.
To see the Katniss Everdeen of your imagination after reading The Hunger Games books be incarnated so perfectly on screen by Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to the eye. Lawrence struts through every scene as if she was Katniss and Katniss was her. She exuberates confidence, sentimentality, fragility, innocence, worry, love and pain. Widely known for her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence is still in the same vein in The Hunger Games. This time, however, she manages to polish the sides of her performance, nitpicking until she truly becomes flawless. In Katniss, Lawrence gives you a heroine you want to root for with all your heart. It doesn’t even feel forced, it’s simply natural to feel invested in the primal force that Lawrence conveys to Katniss. And it is then that you realize the brilliance of Lawrence’s Katniss. She has managed to make her character one that is driven by principle.
Director Gary Ross manages to not let the movie’s extended run at 140 minutes affect it negatively. The Hunger Games doesn’t let down. It keeps picking up, bring in gut-wrenching revelations and action sequences one after the other. Ross uses the action of the movie to serve the characters, not drown them. He keeps the suspense going throughout. His camerawork is also highly interesting, with lots of focus on his characters’ faces, giving them a more humane appearance and seeing the struggles in them easily. Co-writing the movie’s script with the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, he stays true to the book’s essence. Even though some sequences have been shortened and some have been omitted, the feeling of the book remains there, present for you throughout to sink your eyes into.
At the center of the deathly games is a growing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a friend of Katniss from District 12 who’s lucky enough not to have been chosen as tribute. Liam Hemsworth quickly establishes himself as a forceful character, with the limited screentime he gets. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is highly relatable as the man secretly crushing over Katniss whose only memory of him is him helping her in a time of need. But the greatest triumph in this regard for The Hunger Games is focusing less on the love triangle than other movies targeting the same audience, making you really not care about either Team Peeta or Team Gale. At the end of the day, the only team you want to be on is the movie.
Other actors that appear in the movie are Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, a TV host that charmingly narrates the games as they unfold. Elizabeth Banks stars as Effie Trinket, a Capitol spokesperson who’s as obnoxious as she is caring. Donald Sutherland appears as the horrible President Snow, governing his country with a hand of steel. Woody Harrelson is the always drunk Haymitch who has to sober up in order to tip the balance in his tributes’ favor.