The Hunger Games Review: Jennifer Lawrence is on Fire

The Hunger Games Review: Jennifer Lawrence is on FireToday is the day, ladies and gentleman of the 12 Districts. Today is the day the latest young adult fiction series, The Hunger Games, makes its way to the big screen. Unlike its most recent counterpart (The Twilight Series), though, The Hunger Games is worth the hype and hyperbole afforded it and, even more so, is worth your time and money.

The film begins with a quick assessment of the goings on. North America has fallen apart due to famine and destruction and has been replaced by Panem; a country of sorts made up of 12 separate districts and a centralized hub known as The Capitol. Whereas the outlying districts still suffer from the plights that brought civilization down to begin with, The Capitol exists as an Eden of sorts; a sort of Roman Empire in the midst of all the suffering.

It’s briefly explained that, due to a past uprising of the Districts that didn’t end in favor of the less fortunate, the Hunger Games were created and are held annually as a way of showing loyalty and repentance to the government, while at the same time giving each district hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow paved in the blood of their youth, mind you. Two teens, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18, are randomly chosen as “Tributes” for their district. 24 teens and only one can survive. Everyone remaining in the Districts is forced to watch it all take place until the end.

Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays the film’s primary lead Katniss Everdeen, is immediately engaging and handles the films heavy subject matter exceptionally well. Rather than bog the viewer down with endless exposition, there is a lot of background story hinted at or assumed, and Lawrence’s nails these scenes. Although it’s featured in all of the marketing, the moment where Katniss volunteers herself as Tribute to save her sister is still moving and begins a wonderful bit of tension and slight dread that the film manages to maintain as it continues on.

The Hunger Games Review: Jennifer Lawrence is on Fire

Soon Katniss and her male counterpart from District 12, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are sent off to The Capitol where they are pampered and paraded before being sent off to kill the other youths as well as each other. They are groomed for their trial by Effie Trinket (an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), being told and shown the best ways to not only survive but to also play the game, which consists of obtaining sponsors that will help with their survival.

This section of the film further cements the immediate thing about this story that makes it leaps and bounds better than the Twilight Series; a compellingly strong female character. The Twilight films are centered on a female lead that is not only helpless without her male suitors, but is also defined by them. Here, Katniss goes almost out of her way to do things on her own, and it’s absolutely refreshing. Sure, there are guys around that she may or may not have affections for, but she’s living her own life and is determined to keep living it, despite the odds. She is the “Girl on Fire,” not the girlfriend of the guy on fire. It’s almost as if the boys need her to define them, which is truly rare in most popular culture these days and a welcome change of pace.

It’s not long before the actual Hunger Games begins. The 24 teens are released into an open wilderness and it’s honestly not long before the blood begins to be shed. Being a PG-13 film, I went in skeptically about how they would convey youths murdering youths, but it had quite a few visceral moments, and, in all honesty, a few heartbreaking ones. The Games further increase the tension and suspense, even when the movie is dwelling in some quieter moments, and it keeps this pace through to the end.

The Hunger Games Review: Jennifer Lawrence is on Fire

Director Gary Ross does an incredible job bringing the film to life. Normally when films are based on novels they can tend to have pacing issues, but The Hunger Games moved at what felt like just the right pace. On top of that the film is brilliantly shot, many a scene reminding me of some of Terrance Malick’s work; just letting the scenery and the actor carry the story without unnecessary dialogue.

That said, I do have a major gripe. There is absolutely too much “shaky-cam.” It’s almost heartbreaking to go from the beautiful cinematography of some shots to just absolute motion sickness in others. This technique is usually reserved for more of the action-y scenes in the film which robs what could have been some well choreographed fight scenes. I’m sure some of it was to keep the violence hidden and maintain the rating, but it really works against the beauty that is the rest of the film and, I can only imagine some people aren’t going to be able to deal with it.

I already spoke highly of Lawrence’s work in the film, but everyone else holds their own, in as much as they need to. Harrelson brings some charisma to his portrayal of Haymitch, bad wig and all. Book reader’s, is Haymitch’s bad hair intentional? I feel like it’s got to be.

The Hunger Games Review: Jennifer Lawrence is on Fire

Lenny Kravitz, whom I believe was the most talked about/surprising part of every trailer, turns in a subtle performance and makes quite an impression with his role. There’s also the always incredible Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, a sort of talk show host that interviews all of the Tributes for the Hunger Games and helps sell them to the crowds and sponsors. I’d seriously watch Stanley Tucci in anything, so he was a welcome addition here.

Having not read any of the books (please, don’t kill me!), I can say that not only was The Hunger Games captivating and compelling, but it left me wanting more. I’m anxious to see where the story goes from here. Between Lawrence’s performance and Ross’ visual eye (minus all that darn shaky-cam), I’m definitely along for the ride.

– Matt Hardeman

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