For those of you like me, who have not read the wildly popular Suzanne Collins novel, "The Hunger Games" is the story of a teenage girl sparking a second uprising against an oppressive government in a dystopian future.
The film is set in Panem, a nation that sprang up after the first unsuccessful uprising 74 years before. Panem's one real city, the Capitol, is the seat of all wealth and power while twelve outlying districts languish in poverty. As punishment for the revolt, the Capitol has an annual "reaping" from all 12 districts. These "reapings" entail choosing one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to represent their districts in the annual Hunger Games. They are sent into the "arena" and are forced to fight to the death in front of a rabid television audience. Only one will survive.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a sixteen year old in District 12. When her younger sister Primrose is chosen as the district's girl, Katniss knows it is a death sentence for Prim. Desperately, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Meanwhile, sixteen year old Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is chosen as the boy.
Katniss and Peeta do not go immediately to the arena. First they must train with a previous winner (Woody Harrelson), all while appearing on television with colorful Hunger Games commentator Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).
Directed by Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit"), "The Hunger Games" is the perfect popcorn movie. Strangely for its dystopian premise it is extremely accessible. Most every step of the way I felt I knew what was to come and more often than not I was right. However, the choices felt right. It's incredibly involving as well.
When the film finally does get into the arena, which is surprisingly far into the movie, the sense of tension is remarkably strong. It's also a real credit to the quality of the storytelling that it is engrossing rather than horrifying.
Established stars such as Tucci, Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland give fine, often theatrical performances, while some of the younger actors such as Hutcherson and Amandla Stenberg (Rue) do good work. But it's Lawrence's star-making performance that is truly remarkable. She makes us believe that Katniss not only can but will win. Even when the situation is dire and she's outnumbered, there's a sense that she's not really the one who's in trouble. Katniss Everdeen isn't merely an archetypal tough girl though, she's a real character with depth.
As the film ended, I still had questions-- questions I feel confident will be answered in its subsequent sequels.
"The Hunger Games" is a very entertaining film with far more intelligence than the average popcorn movie. I very much look forward to seeing what happens next. 8/10.