Jennifer Lawrence – Katniss
Josh Hutcherson – Peeta
Liam Hemsworth – Gale
Woody Harrelson – Haymitch
Elizabeth Banks – Effie
Lenny Kravitz – Cinna
Donald Sutherland – Pres. Snow
Stanley Tucci – Cesar Flickerman
I want to warn you readers right now that I will be talking about the movie here as if you have read the books or seen the movie. If you don’t want spoilers on plot lines, steer away. (For those that have read the book but not watched the movie, there’s nothing to spoil in the movie really.)
Jennifer Lawrence was superb. Already an Oscar nominee at 20, Lawrence has a stellar reputation as an actress with an immense natural talent. You might have seen her in last summer’s blockbuster “X-Men: First Class”. Even as a young Mystique she was very good, though the role did not give her as much chance to showcase her talent as “Hunger Games”. You are transfixed by Lawrence and you never see her act. After the movie my friend pointed out that she simply embodies the part, she is Katniss, or at least she makes you believe that she is. She makes you believe in Katniss’s fear so much that your heart cannot stop pounding. There are intense scenes throughout the movie, but it is her performance that makes you feel the fear of this 16 year-old girl.
You don’t see much of Gale (Liam Hemsworth, brother to “Thor” actor Chris Hemsworth) in this installment, but what we do see is ok. His acting is fairly subtle and informs enough of things to come, but he cannot compete with Lawrence when they are on screen together. Actually, not even Stanley Tucci could compete with Lawrence and that’s saying something. Josh Hutcherson was good as Peeta, and for his part you can tell how Peeta feels about the Girl on Fire. I thought Hutcherson brought some good nuances to the part, and I’m interested to see how he’ll portray the problems coming his way.
For the mentors of the “kids”, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and even Lenny Kravitz were pretty amazing. Banks particularly disappeared into Effie so much that you were struggling to believe it was really her. While I love Haymitch as a character and thought Harrelson was good, it was really Kravitz that you are drawn to, probably because our heroine finds more comfort in his friendship. Who knew the rocker could act?
Now, as to the movie itself – wow. I have a friend, Joni, that will tell you until your ears bleed that books and movies are two different mediums. She is absolutely right. But when it comes to adaptations, this has probably been one of the best book-to-screen jobs I have ever seen. Books like Harry Potter suffer partially because of the extensive source material, partially because of poor directorial choices (I’m looking at you, Chris Columbus). Hunger Games is a relatively short, fast-paced novel, so it is much easier to get the important pieces into the film. While we might miss out on some of the nuances, such as Katniss’s playing up the romance in the arena, you still get a pretty good picture of it. Not only that, with the movie we were allowed outside of Katniss’s mind and that gave us a very interesting look at the Games behind the scenes. I particularly loved the exchanges between Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane.
I was glad that the violence was short and not graphic. It would have to be to secure the PG-13 rating, especially since it is kids killing other kids. If you could call violence tastefully done, “Hunger Games” certainly did it. It was enough to bring out the outrage you should feel, but not enough to glorify the violence you are supposed to be hating.
After the movie last night, I was discussing it with a friend and she was questioning why Katniss becomes this symbol for hope. I expressed to her that Katniss is the result of this horrific tradition – she is closed off and will not allow herself to have normal human emotions, besides her sisterly affection. She is the type of person the Games creates, whether or not she would ever compete. Her open affection and rescue of her sister coupled with the love story with Peeta allows the average watcher in the districts to feel there is hope for Katniss, hope for these children whose futures have been robbed by the Capitol. That hope spreads like a fire, burning in these forsaken districts that things could be different. Snow makes an interesting comment in the movie about how the tiny seed of hope is necessary, but too much hope causes problems. When Rue dies, instead of sending bread we see District 11 break out into a riot. Katniss and her determination has sparked outrage and a hope that if Katniss can prevail against the Gamemakers, they could against the Capitol. She shows how bleak and terrible things really are, but she survives. That is what lights that fire.
I am not sure the books really got that across as well as the movie was able. That might be because we were always with Katniss in the books, and she does not understand why she must be the symbol. But in the film, with an omniscient view, it is so much easier to gauge the emotions and reactions of Panem, and especially how they view this very interesting 16 year-old girl.
Now, for you critics of the film. If you didn’t like Hunger Games because it was violent or because you thought it was only about kids killing kids, you have entirely missed the point. While some critics thought the movie version downplayed the satire, I thought it did a very good job of holding a mirror to our current society. We put a man on television and make him act like a jerk while he dates 25 women. People are pitted against each other, showing their worst characteristics, in a remote location so one person can win money and fame. For money, people will do degrading acts in front of millions of viewers. We call this entertainment in our world. Jennifer Lawrence made a very insightful comment a few weeks ago about watching the Kardashians (don’t pretend you don’t know who they are). She was sitting there watching this woman’s short marriage crumble in front of cameras and it was all so we as a society could be entertained? I am not saying that Hunger Games is solely an indictment of our so-called reality television, but even Suzanne Collins will tell you that it started that way. Hunger Games is no different from any other piece of fiction that is meant to shock us out of a terrible behavior. Books such as 1984 or Brave New World were not written to shock us for the sake of it – they were written to warn us of the reality that could be ours if we do not guard ourselves against it.
So, despite the fact that it was “kids killing kids”, I really enjoyed the “Hunger Games”. Not because it was an action film or a love story, but because of how well done it truly was. I loved it because it made me think about our motivations, about what we would do to survive for our families. I loved it because it instills a hope that things can be better if we fight for that. I loved it because the acting, story, characters, music, cinematography, everything, moved me.