Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray
Directed by Gary Ross
Woody Harrelson as a drunk, Lenny Kravitz in gold eyeliner, Stanley Tucci with blue hair and teenagers fighting to the death – what’s not to love? The Hunger Games is Battle Royale with character development in place of gore, The Running Man with Jennifer Lawrence instead of Arnie and I could not take my eyes from the screen for fear of missing something.
The screenplay is extremely tight indeed, all the exposition and back-story is handled visually – a propaganda film at ‘The Reaping’ where the next contestants for the games are chosen, fills in the history of how the twelve districts and the competition came about. Two children are chosen from each area and put into a huge wildlife arena where the show’s producers can manipulate what happens by causing fires or creating savage beasts in order to maintain ‘great viewing’. Only one victor can emerge and this serves as a reminder that peace reigns only because those in power have forgiven a former uprising.
Dystopia is defined as being ‘an imaginary state where society is in a repressive and controlled state often under the guise of being perfect or utopian’. This is portrayed beautifully in The Hunger Games where we begin in the poverty of District Twelve where bread is an expensive luxury and coal mining explosions a daily fear. The camera work is extremely jerky and rather annoying to start with but once Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) reach the controlling Capitol the camera movements smooth out and colour saturates everything.
The art direction is fantastic, a real visual feast with peculiar hairstyles, outrageous makeup and surreal costumes making the wealthy out to be coiffed clowns. They all look like they’ve stepped off a Vivian Westwood catwalk. With visual images alluding to concentration camps and Roman gladiators the themes are set up strongly from the beginning.
I was hooked in completely by the first ten minutes and found the plotting and story riveting and relentless. I had started to read the book but when I realised I wasn’t going to finish by the time I saw the film I put it aside. I’m very glad I did as everything was new and surprising. All the characters are flawed and dimensional, many with hidden agendas and conflicting goals, the dialogue is sharp, the stakes are life and death itself, the world is startling and intriguing and the audience is not patronised to one little bit. There is so much to take in that you’re constantly absorbing and processing information. The two-hour running time just shot by.
Jennifer Lawrence is mesmerising as Katniss, a loner who does not want to woo the sponsors for ‘survival gifts’ but who has already gained favour by volunteering in place of her younger sister. Her performance is still and measured, she infuses the character with vulnerability and a core of steel almost without moving a muscle; it is a superb performance and builds on her Winter’s Bone reputation as an exciting new talent.
Woody Harrelson is brilliantly cast as a previous victor brought in to mentor the District Twelve competitors. Now a cynical drunk he informs them that their only chance of survival is to suck up to the sponsors and make themselves as popular as possible. His character does a huge about-face when he realises he might have a winner on his hands.
Josh Hutcherson as the ‘rich’ baker’s son who once threw a burnt loaf meant for his pigs to a starving Katniss plays the love interest but instead of this being a saccharine relationship reminiscent of Twilight it is fraught with unreadable motives – are their feelings real or are they playing to the cameras for survival?
With a supporting cast consisting of Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz and Wes Bentley, even the most superficial roles are brought to life brilliantly.
Throughout I was reminded of the Western World versus the Third World and how media/celebrity is an obsession of the former. In The Hunger Games the Westerners make money and find entertainment in the televised struggle for survival of the poor.
Hunger, poverty, war, rioting, violence and media, – pretty strong themes for a kid’s film. I was rooting for Katniss throughout and am totally hooked in for the rest of the trilogy particularly as she has made a political enemy of the dictator figure Snow which means there must be more of Sutherland in the next film.
I was glued to the screen, eager and curious to know what was going to happen next, the ending felt like a foregone conclusion but there was enough going on elsewhere to keep me curious. Instead of being moved emotionally I found myself seriously thought provoked, I’m thinking about how lazy we are and how we let the government get away with so much and how the media leads us by the nose and numbs us with entertainment and escapism when so much is wrong with our world.
Intelligent and brutal without gore, I give this film a big one thumb up!