March 23, 2012 The Hunger Games
Studio: Lions Gate Rating: PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images-all involving teens.
Set in a post-apocalyptic North America, "The Hunger Games" focuses around a cruel central government that will do anything to retain its iron grip on power.
Each year...two teenagers from 12 districts surrounding The Capitol are chosen to compete in a televised battle to the death. We follow the journey of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
She's from the Appalachian coal-producing district...so I'm going to claim her as a future West Virginian. Anyway, she's handy with a bow...and spends her time taking care of her younger sister and mother.
Katniss tries to stay off of the radar and out of sight, but when her sibling is selected to compete in the games she volunteers to take her place as one of her district's "tributes".
Once she arrives in the capital, Katniss meets a man (Lenny Kravitz) whose job is to make her more appealing to potential sponsors. If they like her, they can help her in competition.
Coming from a poor district, Katniss' chances of winning aren't very good. She's going up against teenagers from richer areas who have trained for the games their entire lives.
But, she's tough and smart...and determined to make her mark.
With "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins selling millions of copies, this film has a built-in fan base.
Having not read the books, I went in without pre-conceived notions. Judging the film on its own merits, this is an interesting take on a fairly dark future.
Director Gary Ross uses a pretty measured approach to the story. After a chaotic and fast opening the movie settles down and actually takes its time moving forward.
We get to know Katniss and her district. We see the anger and frustration that is simmering just out of sight. And we also feel the hopelessness as families are torn apart by the games.
This is a star-making turn for Lawrence. Katniss is the force that drives this story and Lawrence delivers realism and truth in every scene.
Her fellow District 12 "tribute" is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Even faced with the fact that they may eventually have to kill each other, the pair form a complicated bond. One which may not be exactly as it appears.
The supporting cast includes Woody Harrelson as a former games champion, Stanley Tucci as the event's tv host and Donald Sutherland as the president who isn't very happy with Katniss' performance.
At its most basic, this is a story about kids being forced to kill other kids. That subject matter is handled in a deadly serious manner. The stakes are high and you are constantly reminded the price of losing.
But there are many more levels to "The Hunger Games"...which I imagine will play out in the inevitable sequels.
On my rating scale, "The Hunger Games" earns a HOME RUN. It's high-quality entertainment delivering some pretty heavy messages.
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