out of Five
Running time: 146
Stunningly designed and superbly written, this is an exciting, enjoyable and intelligent blockbuster with a terrific central performance from Jennifer Lawrence.
What's it all about?
Directed by Gary Ross and based on the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where, each year, the Capitol (under the auspices of President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland) selects a boy and a girl from each of the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television in an event called The Hunger Games. When her 12 year old sister Prim (Willow Shields) is selected to participate, teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place and finds herself paired with baker's son and ex-classmate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
When they arrive in the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta are trained and coached by a team that includes world-weary ex-contestant Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), skilled stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and twittering PR flack Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who pitch them as “the star-crossed lovers from District 12” in order to make them stand out amongst the other contestants. However, once in the arena, several of the contestants band together to form a gang and Katniss has to use every survival instinct at her disposal in order to stay alive.
Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as Katniss, delivering a complex, compassionate performance and managing to convey a huge amount of the book's first-person monologue (thankfully, the film eschews voiceover) with just the look in her eyes. Hutcherson is equally good and there's strong support from Harrelson, Kravitz, Wes Bentley (as game designer Seneca Crane, a role expanded from the book) and a scene-stealing turn from Stanley Tucci as blue pompadoured Hunger Games host Caesar Flickman.
Despite the lengthy running time, Ross maintains a decent pace throughout, aided by some impressive editing and camerawork, particularly in the use of tight close-ups. He also orchestrates some genuinely thrilling set-pieces, faithfully recreating all the key moments from the book.
The theme of an oppressed populace kept diverted and docile by a reality TV show (FYI, Britain's Got Talent starts soon) is extremely timely and it's refreshing to see a blockbuster (and potential franchise-starter) with a script this intelligent.
That said, the film isn't entirely without problems: Ross overdoes the shakey-cam in places (especially early on), some of the violence has been clumsily edited in pursuit of the 12A rating and the script is occasionally guilty of assuming that everyone has already read the book - for example, there's a frustrating lack of background detail that often results in a loss of the book's dramatic and emotional impact.
A few issues aside, The Hunger Games is an exciting, intelligent and beautifully designed sci-fi thriller with a terrific central performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Recommended.