The Hunger Games

I’m not a 12-year-old girl, but I would imagine they would not want to see children their age being gruesomely murdered with spears any more than I would.

“The Hunger Games” then is a puzzling blockbuster. The book trilogy by Suzanne Collins and this impending movie franchise are being marketed as the equivalent to “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.”

But the film is a shockingly bleak and brutal story of survival and mortality in the face of massive pressure and little hope. It is a deftly powerful piece of filmmaking that more closely resembles “Children of Men” than light entertainment.

Thankfully, Gary Ross’s (“Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit”) film never tries to be something it’s not. From its outset we are plunged into the gritty, dark, ruthless world of the futuristic nation Panem’s District 12. Extreme close-ups and a dizzying camera immerse us in the film’s dour tone.

We learn that 24 children from the ages of 12 to 18 are annually selected as tribute to a reality TV deathmatch with only one survivor. District 12’s victim is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a volunteer in place of her helpless younger sister. She’s paired with a male sacrifice, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and both are shipped off to the central, aristocratic district that craves such entertainment.

The lively color in the Capitol is a welcome change of pace, but in “The Hunger Games,” even the garish is grim. Overly prettied and posh socialites flaunt a diminishing attitude toward the lower class contestants in a politically charged allegory. The most memorable figure is Stanley Tucci as a post-apocalyptic Matt Lauer with a hairdo loosely inspired by Marge Simpson.

The problem is, once we are dumped into the forested world of the games, the film never leaves. We are constantly locked in an uncomfortable struggle with no optimism to propel us forward.

And as opposed to fun, stylized action, Ross’s battle scenes are intended to be claustrophobic, nightmarish experiences free of glamorous money shots or special effects wizardry. Ross’s skill then is in keeping the constant kill or be killed anticipation tense, making for a truly pulse-pounding final hour and a half.

So I’m still trying to figure out why this riveting, but frankly depressing movie would be appealing to any mass audience.

The film considers the voyeuristic, perverse fascination with reality TV mumbo-jumbo, but the film’s class warfare allusions mixed with individualistic survival instincts more closely meet the mark.

My money then is on Katniss. She strikes me as a more relatable and complex feminine figure than say, Lisbeth Salander. Lawrence embodies Katniss as a rare nurturing figure in a cold world, and we see that like her role in “Winter’s Bone,” Lawrence has more motherly conviction than even her distant mom does.

As opposed to being a badass psychopath like Lisbeth, Katniss is naturally apprehensive about the idea of death. She’s fierce, but also protective and possesses more emotional range than most of her blockbuster counterparts. What’s more, her philosophy on love is more individualistic than the idea of blindly dying for a man the way Bella Swan preaches.

It’s hard to imagine tweens swooning over any of this, and nor should they. For as hard to watch as “The Hunger Games” can be, this is a smartly made film with a wonderful role model who keeps you hungry for more.

3 stars


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