Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games

Just like that – a little over two hours is all it takes sometimes.  A great book, a blockbuster movie, a terrific character, and a whole lot of talent - that’s all it takes to make a star.  Sure, she already has a few golden statuette and shiny globe nominations under her belt for a film no one saw.  It’s not like no one knows who she is.  Now, everyone is going to know who Jennifer Lawrence is and unless I miss my guess, we are going to get to enjoy her work for a very long time.

Make no mistake about it.  Jennifer Lawrence is the star of The Hunger Games.  She is absolutely brilliant as Katniss Everdeen, the stalwart heroine of Suzanne Collins’ beloved Hunger Games series.  It is almost as if the part was written for her.  She combines a fierce toughness with gut wrenching vulnerability that is the essential key to the role.  Her dialogue is never strained and she can convey even the most minuscule trace of emotion with her facial expressions and body language.  Her performance entrances the theater audience, just like the character from the books.  She dominates that big screen and draws the eye to her every movement.  Her actions are never rushed or forced, from the faint smile that seems lurk behind her brooding features to the way she calming pulls the string of her bow.  I’m telling you folks; Jennifer Lawrence has what it takes to be a superstar.  If I were a director, she would always be my first phone call when casting a lead actress from now on.

Of course, she had beautiful material in which to inspire her.  Collins had a big role in the screenplay and I am sure that’s why the transition from the page to the big screen went so well.  The movie follows the book carefully in all of the right places.  The biggest divergence from the novels is that the books are all from one viewpoint - from Katniss’ view.  There just isn’t enough time for the film to allow us to learn everything we need to learn through Katniss.  The film gives us a look at things from a few other points of view, just to keep the story moving along at the correct pace.  It does not distract and it fills in necessary holes here and there.  The biggest difference between picture and novel is that we lose a lot of the background development and characters, mainly from Katniss’ home, District 12.  The movie was a long one and there just wasn’t enough time for the depth the book offered. 

Some of the satellite characters were expanded.  Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman both have more screen time than in the book.  I felt Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy’s was actually a tad underplayed, if possible, and I was intrigued by Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ wardrobe supervisor.  Amandla Stenberg was terrific as Rue; I just wish her role had been slightly bigger.  I only recognized Elizabeth Banks because I already knew she played Effie.  The make-up job was terrific.  Donald Sutherland is President Snow and while he makes a subtle few appearances, his biggest moments will come in the later films.

The final key to this film is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta.  While I felt he fell short early on in the movie and lacked chemistry with Lawrence, he slowly built up believability as the film progressed, much like in the book.  He grows on us, as intended, and by the end, we welcome the twist we all know is coming.  It will be interesting to see how the dynamic with Liam Hemsworth as Gale will play out in the second and third movies when Gale’s is greatly expanded.

The story, of course, is about a futuristic world divided into twelve districts, controlled by the Capitol.  The districts are poor and the Capitol is rich.  The people in the districts are kept down so there is not revolt.  A 13th district existed but revolted 74 years ago.  As a remembrance (penalty), each district has to provide 2 tributes each year, a teenage male and female, to participate in an arena.  Only one of the 24 is allowed to walk out alive and is showered with riches the rest of his/her life.  What a happy world!  Thus the need for a heroine, our Katniss.  The movie focuses most of its time on the action in the arena as children fight for their lives against each other and the game master (Bentley’s Crane).  The arena is loaded with dangers controlled by the game master as he manipulates the game play, and sometimes, who survives and who dies.

The Hunger Games has few faults.  What few that exist are washed away by Jennifer Lawrence’s screen presence.  When the camera goes off her, all we want is for it to return to her.  It is hard to focus on the film’s weaknesses.  The arena scenes of death are watered down so they are friendlier to younger viewers.  The violence is shown in a jerky, blurring fashion, hiding the worst of the violence from the audience.  We see the aftermath.  Keep in mind, the premise is a dark one to begin with.  Young children may be disturbed by the very fact of children trying to kill each other.  We all should, and that is part of the point of the movie. 

I obviously loved the movie and Jennifer Lawrence.  Take the time and go see it.  Enjoy the action and the acting.  You won’t be disappointed.

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  1. Take away the hullabaloo surrounding the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult book and what you have is an absorbing film with a dire premise that stands pretty much on its own. Lawrence is also the stand-out here as Katniss and makes her seem like a real person rather than just another book character brought to life on film. Good review.

  2. What you have in this film is a remake of Running Man for teenage girls based on books that are little more than junk food for insatiable hunger of the masses to be entertained.

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