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The Hunger Games - Review

The Hunger Games

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DUBIOUS morality (for younger viewers) and questionable originality aside, the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ literary sensation is a hugely impressive affair.

Gary Ross (of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit fame) has created a gripping and emotionally absorbing film that retains the essence of the novels if not all of its harshest elements.

He also utilises the skills of an extremely talented leading lady (in Jennifer Lawrence) and an equally strong supporting cast (Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks) to deliver a set of characters who are as memorable on-screen as they were in novel form.

The story takes place in a futuristic society known as Panem (formerly north America) ruled over by a totalitarian regime known as The Capitol who, once a year, selects by way of a reaping two teens (aged anywhere between 12 and 18, one male and one female) from each of 12 districts to take part in The Hunger Games.

The participants are known as tributes and only one can survive.

Thrust into this arena is a girl named Katniss (Lawrence) who has volunteered in place of her sister and who becomes an unlikely beacon of hope in her battle for survival.

Much of the success of Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy of novels lay in the complexity of the world that the author created, which operates as much from Orwellian and Greek mythological conceits as it does from her reaction to where we are in the world right now in terms of questioning our leaders and being de-sensitised to on-screen violence.

This, in turn, could have posed problems for the filmmaker’s given the violence implicit in the text and the need to keep things exciting, entertaining and above all 12A friendly.

But far from glorifying the violence, Ross doesn’t dwell and there’s a strong sense of loss (both impending and real) that Lawrence helps to realise thanks to the strength of her performance.

She manages to fill a lot of the gaps that could have occurred from translating the book’s narrative point of view to a visceral one.

It also means that what might have become an objectionable crowdpleaser that revelled in each death is, instead, quite a sombre piece, punctuated by dark humour. And audiences will care about Katniss, just as they will Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the complexity of the emotions at play.

Admittedly, some of the other tributes are less fleshed out and more one dimensional but this is a small price to pay.

Ross, for his part, delivers as fully realised a film as he can given the time frame dictates of the film format and does really well in creating a world that pulls you in from the outset.

In doing so, he also makes sure not to shortchange the ability of the likes of Harrelson (suitably groggy and charismatic), Banks (kooky yet intelligent), Tucci (full of energy as ever) and Donald Sutherland (supremely sinister as President Snow).

It all adds up to a richly satisfying experience that feels much less like a franchise starter than it could have done and more an intelligent, exciting and emotionally engaging blockbuster in its own right (and that’s despite comparisons with the likes of The Running Man and Battle Royale).

It is a film phenomenon in waiting that’s worthy of its hype.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 142 minutes
UK Release Date: March 23, 2012