(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 25 March 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/the-hunger-games/375324.html)
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Gary Ross
Rating: 2.5 stars
I tried, and failed, to read Suzanne Collins’ dystopian envisioning of a post-apocalyptic world. A young adult love triangle married to a reality show where only 1 of 24 contestants will survive, narrated by a 16-year-old girl, isn’t my idea of entertainment.
However, Gary Ross cures the storyline of most of its annoying elements. For one, there is no narrator. For another, a girl who could so easily have been a vulnerable hero is played with steely earthiness by Jennifer Lawrence. And in Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, we seem to have a survivor, not a do-gooder – a real person, someone we could turn into in that implausible situation.
Now, for the implausible situation – so, there’s this country called Panem, which I think is Latin for “bread”. How pedestrian, right? It is ruled by The Capitol, some kind of metropolis that dictates terms to twelve powerless districts surrounding it. There is a yearly raffle, known as the “reaping”, through which each district contributes two “tributes” – a boy and girl, aged between 12 and 18 – to slug it out in a televised battle for survival.
This system began 74 years ago, as some kind of punitive ritual to commemorate a rebellion that led to the destruction of a thirteenth district, and none of these idiots thought to do an Occupy Capitol or Panem Spring, or whatever they call it. The people of these districts seem so listless that it appears they’re resigned to the prospect of being picked to participate in a bloody battle. Well, unless their baby sisters are in danger of being the chosen ones.
Apparently, Collins was moved to devise this premise when she was channel surfing, and caught part of a reality show and footage of the invasion of Iraq. Naturally, an author who marries those two is the kind who’d do a futuristic-ancient re-reading of Romeo and Juliet. And so, the story hampers the screenplay. There are scenes that remind one that the books – and by extension, the movie co-produced by the author – are meant for a teen audience. A case in point is a funeral-of-sorts.
Katniss and her besotted admirer Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are advised by Haymitch Abermathy (Woody Harrelson), who’s been drinking since he survived the 50th Hunger Games – they don’t have PTSD counselling in the future, apparently. Complicating matters are Katniss’ hunky BFF Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), random misunderstandings, TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and Gamemaker Seneca (Wes Bentley).
One feels the film is constantly striving to rise above its limitations, and make a dark statement on society with cinematic embellishments, but it is dragged down by an unwieldy plot. What could have been satire is simplified into spoof, and poignancy turns into mush. So, social commentary plays out like wannabe Leftist rant.
The Verdict: The film isn’t a bad watch, but you may find yourself glancing at yours every now and then. It may have sustained interest if it had been shorter and focused on subtext.