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Review: Jennifer Lawrence Shines in Solid "The Hunger Games"

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Jennifer Lawrence headlines a stellar cast of this tight adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel.

Review: Jennifer Lawrence Shines in Solid

Adapting a book to the screen is never an easy task.  Adapting a wildly popular series into a film is even more difficult.  A book like The Hunger Games is a challenge on several levels.  First, the world the books takes place in is a very complicated one that takes a ton of exposition to explain in the book.  There are many characters and relationships that have to be introduced and fleshed out.  There are several key settings that have to be taken from the page to the screen.  Then you have the massive scale of the Games themselves, and throughout all of it you have to try and maintain a story that can hit on all of the proper emotional levels.

Director Gary Ross manages to pull all of this off with his version of The Hunger Games thanks to a strong cast and some excellent choices with the subject matter.  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley and Lenny Kravitz all gave very strong performances to help round out the film.  There's something for everyone in this film, even if you didn't read the books: great acting, strong story, some romance, some drama, some violence, and even a little humor thrown in for good measure.  It's a complete film that tells a very specific story with a very broad appeal.  

Lawrence's performance made the film.  If Katniss isn't a compelling lead character, the movie can't succeed.  Although she's five years older than the character she's playing, there was no other real choice for the part.  Lawrence brought the perfect level of physicality and subtlety to her portrayal of Katniss.  She fell so perfectly into every single role Katniss was forced to play: provider, friend, survivor, protector.  She's strong, but she's also fragile and conflicted.  She's stubborn and volatile.  She's caring and nurturing.  She's broody and internal.  Lawrence hit all of those notes with ease.  Nothing she did seemed too far-fetched or overdone.  The two scenes that stood out the most to me were her last seconds with Cinna before the start of the games and her final moments with Rue in the woods.  Both scenes were tremendously acted, showcasing just what a talent she is.

The one part of the film that really seemed to resonate with me was just how dire the entire idea of the Hunger Games really is.  The whole concept of keeping the districts of your nation in line by forcing children from every region to fight to the death is a pretty chilly one.  It didn't really affect me that much when I read it.  However, seeing Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of the tributes training with weapons and learning survival skills watching them get paraded around the Capital for the screaming elites and asked to put on a good show just days before being sent to slaughter each other really stuck with me.  It's a game for everyone else except for the children being forced to participate and their families forced to watch it at home.  What really sold it was that great scene between Lawrence and Kravitz right before the start of the games.  Just great, powerful, minimalist work that really accentuated the fear and the reality of what was going on. 

I thought the film did a pretty good job at staying faithful to the book while also doing enough to bring people in that might not have been familiar with the source material. The violence wasn't over-the-top but was just graphic enough to be effective.  I thought they spent just enough time in the three main settings (District 12, The Capitol, and then the arena) and the movie kept a great pace.  The movie never really felt like it dragged because even in the slower parts of the games, the tension was built up.  

Was the film perfect?  Certainly not.  I didn't agree with every choice made throughout the film, most notably the way they decided to end the film.  A lot of things that the book has time to delve into have to be overlooked in the film.  Not much time is spent establishing the different relationships in District 12 or really .  The origin of Katniss' famed Mockingjay pin was changed, and they did so to save time.  I think they could have stretched out the time that Katniss and Rue had together in the Games, although their scenes were great on their own.  All of those choices are understandable, and they didn't really take away from the film.

The only real problem I had was the way they ended the movie.  In the books, Katniss admits to Peeta that she faked the romance just to earn favor with sponsors, which is supposed to isolate the two of them.  Gale is supposed to be upset at Katniss because of his feelings for her.  She's supposed to feel alone amidst all of this and the potential revolution that she sparked.  But in the film, they made all of these feeling very ambiguous.  Katniss never really told Peeta how she really felt.  Everyone just seemed fine with each other.  I'm sure it will be resolved in the second movie, but there's supposed to be a feeling of uncertainty for Katniss.  Ross chose to emphasize the way the Capitol, especially President Snow, feels about Katniss' stunt that she pulled during the games.  You get a clear sense that they are planning a way to get back at Katniss, and by the time the Arcade Fire song "Abraham's Daughter" starts blaring, you know there is more conflict on the horizon.

Some random thoughts:

  • Just as Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice for Katniss, Stanley Tucci was the perfect choice for Hunger Games MC Caesar Flickerman.  He brings that perfect combination of bombastic energy and sincere empathy to a role that is tough to envision: how do you get so excited and amped up while announcing something as awful at its core as the Hunger Games?  Tucci did a great job with the role.
  • Toby Jones was cast as the "color commentator" for the games, but he had maybe two lines in the whole movie.  If you're going to get someone as talented as Jones, give him more than two lines!
  • I was skeptical about Elizabeth Banks for the role of Effie Trunkett, but she pulled it off.  Her chemistry with Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy brought us some of the funnier moments in the film.  Harrelson also did a nice job showing the growing attention he was giving to his mentoring duties.  He went from drunk to sober over the course of a few scenes as he realized he had tributes that might be able to win this thing, and it was a nice touch to see that gradual change so well done.

The Hunger Games has grossed $248 million in just two weeks.  Part of the massive success is due to the wild popularity of the novels.  But another part is the fact that this is a genuinely good movie, driven by a strong story and great lead performances.  Grade: A

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