The Hunger Games (2012)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.5/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) - Gary Ross

Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor….

Every year 75 years ago, the Capitol of Panem hosts an event called the Hunger Games. The Games consists of two children aged twelve to eighteen from each district, one boy and one girl, who are chosen by lottery to compete in a tournament, a fight to the death, a test of survival. When a citizen turns twelve, his or her name is automatically entered in the lottery. For every year until they turn eighteen, they are entered in one additional time. In simplicity, the lottery portion is similar to the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and the actual Games bear a familiar resemblance to the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter, only here the contestants kill each other.

This is Gary Ross' third film, and his first action film. One of the taglines for the film, "The world will be watching," can be taken in the literal sense. The Hunger Games is based on the successful novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Supposedly, it was another Harry Potter, another Twilight, if I might add. I want to first state that I have never read the novels, but I have heard of their fame. The world was indeed watching out for Ross' new film. As a pleasant first move, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence, previously seen in X-Men: First Class and 2010's Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone. Co-starring with her is Josh Hutcherson, a talented young actor seen in Zathura and Bridge to Teribithia.

The film begins in District 12, a coal mine region, the home of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games in place of her younger sister. Also selected from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Mentoring them is drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). The film follows the group of District 12 preparing for and finally playing the Hunger Games.

Lionsgate revealed that over thirty actresses including Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), and Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) auditioned for the role of Katniss. According to the author of the original novel, Jennifer Lawrence was the "only one who truly captured the character." Indeed she is. Lawrence is the greatest element here in The Hunger Games. She was effective, bearing little softness and great determination over what she is obligated to do. Her empathy creates the emotional reality that becomes crucial in the future as the Games unfold. She is perhaps the most compelling female action hero since Kill Bill and Alien. This movie is also one of Josh Hutcherson's greatest performance to date, up to par with Bridge to Teribithia. The chemistry of the two leads is engaging yet odd. Lawrence is taller than Hutcherson. In addition, the roles of the leads are reversed, where the male is the one who needs to be protected. With this uniqueness, The Hunger Gamesbears originality and creativity in characterization. Woody Harrelson is probably the best casted actor in this film, as excellent as the choice to cast Lawrence as Katniss. Harrelson's style of acting was always known as the kind that holds traits of being drunk yet bears a bizarre energy to it. This was clearly seen in Zombielandand even 2012. As a drunken mentor, Harrelson is perfect, exhibiting silliness yet knowledge in his character.

The story is absolutely captivating. It captures the dramatic violence as well as emotions that are necessary to be delivered. From the very beginning, I was already engaged. In fact, there are moments where one can forget to breath. It knows when to build heart-stopping intensity as well as when to calm down. This consistent ride was similar to the energy that James Cameron provided in Aliens. It provides a pulse-pounding spectrum of action, as if it were a survival reality TV show. It is much more than a game. Gary Ross' first step into action filmmaking successfully communicates the horror of violence to the audience, yet does not push the limit to an R rating. It pushes it thematic elements constantly, although I can say their philosophical agenda should have been pushed more. Still, it has as much to say about oppressive politics and the heartless media as it does about the internal "man vs self" struggles among the combatants in the Games. It throws its messages right at us, presented swiftly like a punch in the face.

Despite all the praises for the film, The Hunger Games was criticized for its style of filmmaking. The film opens with oddly plain text, and is assisted by constantly shaking camerawork. Even when characters are calmly talking, Ross jerks the camera around at times, similar to Tony Scott's style of directing. Put that with fast editing and the whole piece feels too fast. From a filmmaker's perspective, the attention to detail of cinematic art is, dare I say, sloppy. However, for a movie like The Hunger Games, all of those filmmaking styles are, dare I say, unnecessary to pay attention to. It is never a first-class film that is comparable to, say even the Harry Potter films. It is a hardcore entertaining flick that is skillfully directed and brilliantly acted. Even the most bored viewers will find themselves perched right on the edge of their seats. Indeed well-made action films need to contain levels of "cinematic violence," with well choreography and fantastic editing. However, The Hunger Games is a unique occasion in which the film almost needed to be bolder, simpler, and, dare I say, nastier.

In conclusion, The Hunger Games is a rich fantasy adventure. Ross has impressed me with every film he has made, and here, he keeps the science fiction themes vivid, the camerawork necessarily jittery, and the action thrilling. It is an excellent dystopian tale, a riveting journey with appealing visuals. Its intelligence is well-written, making its original fans as well as new fans crave for round two. Its spectacle holds our attention and the narrative moves rapidly as we journey with one of the greatest female leads in recent years. Its pacing is brisk, the stakes as high as they will ever get, and its lead performance is amazing enough that the odds - critically and financially - will be ever in its favor.


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