Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games doesn't have the most original story. The premise borrows copiously from other films and books (1984, Battle Royale etc.). Also, its philosophy has been visibly mellowed in the transition from book to film. However, what it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in its execution. Thrilling from start to end and packing a surprisingly strong emotional punch, the film works both, as a teen phenomenon and as an entertaining film for adults.

In a dystopian future, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district of the Capitol must compete in the Hunger Games, a fight where only one person can survive. When her 12 year old sister's name is picked, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers herself for the Games. Together with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), she must prepare and compete against trained, lethal fighters from other districts in the Games which are telecast throughout the Capitol as a source of entertainment.

The film is very well directed by Gary Ross who takes his time to establish his characters and their relationships. He uses close ups and hand held camera movements to create a visceral impact. Also, the minimal use of music in key places helps set the stark, menacing tones of the film quite well. Consequently, the characters and themes resonate with the audience from the beginning and the connection remains till the very end.

The writing isn't perfect. At times, you can feel the political undercurrents of the story have been dumbed down for the audience. But it is easy to overlook that in favour of the characters. Katniss makes for a wonderful protagonist. She isn't the conventional underdog. She is a rich, complex character and the perfect foundation for a series. Jennifer Lawrence essays the role with the right mix of ferocity and vulnerability. Her relationship with Peeta, which is crucial to the film, is evolved organically and with great care, a rarity in big budget films today. Josh Hutcherson gives a solid performance, complementing Lawrence at every step. Also interesting is her relationship with her mentor. The film benefits greatly from a competent cast with effective performances from Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland. Although Liam Hemsworth has little to do in this film, I suspect he will get plenty of opportunities to offer a lot more as the series progresses.

If I have to pick a serious fault in the film, it would have to be in the action. In terms of cinematography, the close ups which help set the emotional undertones of the film so well do a great disservice in some of the action work. The editing is jarring and makes the action sequences almost incomprehensible in places. I strongly suspect this has to do with the PG-13 rating. Although the film does push the rating hard, given that it uses hand to hand combat rather than stylised action, the end result seems too tame in places, for example, the initial minutes when the Games begin.

Nevertheless, overall, The Hunger Games is a thrilling roller-coaster ride with clever direction, good acting and a strong emotional undercurrent which makes up for most of its flaws. What it lacks in blood, it more than makes up for in brains; a far more valuable commodity in blockbuster cinema these days. Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up. A potentially great series has just begun. May the odds be ever in its favour.

Rating: 3.5/5

1 comment:

  1. Good review Walrus. It has the slightly grubby, cobbled-together look of a futuristic flick from the ’70s, but that is part of its charm. It’s also a lot better than any of the Twilight movies, which isn’t saying much, but it isn’t sappy, mopey, or just plain bad and that’s all that matters.