Published on March 28th, 2012 | by Jordan Petersen0
REVIEW: The Hunger Games
Summary: With a winning performance from Jennifer Lawrence, strong supporting cast and nonstop suspense, this is a rare case of film trumping book.
I think I’m in love with Jennifer Lawrence — but more on that later.
The Hunger Games’ core audience will naturally judge this adaptation on its faithfulness to the novel. I won’t bore you with my sermon about the foolishness and insufficiency of this particular criteria — mainly because almost everyone agreed that the film was spectacularly successful in this regard — so my gripe would be an even bigger waste of time than usual.
The fact is that many people are going so far as to utter that blasphemous assertion: the movie might be better than the book. If fans of the book are willing to admit this, disputing the point may not even be possible. The irony is that in order for the film to be better (and it is), it had to, in a way, betray the book, insofar as the source material weakened the overall impact of the story.
This will inevitably be too short of an explanation, but so it goes. The adaptation succeeded so profoundly because it somehow managed to extract all of the best elements from the book and tie them all together in a much more coherent and satisfying way. For instance, a wider and richer perspective of the world in which the narrative takes place provided a much better context for those events.
That world, the political structures, the sense of geography and social relativity — features that are vague and somewhat alienating in the novel — become tangible and meaningful in the film. All it took were some well-placed cutaways and a pretty chilling conversation between the President (played with sinister subtlety by an aging Donald Sutherland) and the game director (Wes Bentley with impossibly-groomed facial hair).
There is also a huge difference between heavy-handed emotional manipulation, of which the book was often guilty, and carefully earned resonance. The film keeps everyone on board from the first minute to the last. Even after it ends, this sense of yearning persists, aftershocks of emotion that spell the difference between mediocrity and profundity.
Much of this is due to what may be the best incarnation of a female action hero ever put to film. And Katniss’s character could not have been better cast. Jennifer Lawrence is, in a word, perfect. Instead of the typical badass warrior chick — which is little more than an uninspired manifestation of male wish-fulfillment — Lawrence plays the part with uncompromising feminine strength. In other words, she is powerful because of her womanhood, not despite it. For this reason, if for no other, Hunger Games should be required viewing for young women. Here, finally, is a heroine worthy of their potential.
The rest of the cast ranged from serviceable to superb, and actors like Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz occupy the latter end of the spectrum with impeccable aplomb. While Harrelson surprised and delighted as always, Kravitz, in the few short minutes he occupied the screen, supplied an affectionate gravitas that proved essential to the story overall. He somehow managed to convey an immediate warmth and honesty on screen, quite rare for male actors.
It’s often difficult to unpack a film sufficiently to expose the director’s hand, but in this case, the nearly pitch-perfect treatment and consistency of tone reveal Gary Ross’s expertise. Maintaining proper tone is never easy, but Games presented a unique set of atypically challenging themes. After all, this is a film about kids killing kids, aimed at an audience of teenagers as well as adults. There is, inherent in the plot, an elemental absurdity, a papered-over horror of circumstance, to which the characters are, quite believably, unable to properly respond. In other words, there is sadness, hope, dread and fury — all by turns and punctuated by moments of uncomfortable humor. Ross guides the audience with prowess, gently but resolutely, through the delicate complexity of it all.
Suffering from occasional inconsistency, and rarely achieving the level of freshness and vivacity the text so deserved, the cinematography was perhaps the film’s most apparent weakness, but not compromisingly so. We can hope, at least, that the sequels are treated with the same kind of breathtaking visual mastery the final few Harry Potter films enjoyed.
Due to its striking social relevance, The Hunger Games will surely give its audience of parents and teenagers plenty to talk about, after witnessing an interesting commentary on children’s relationship to and handling of the broken adult world. And though the violence is often stylized to avoid outright gore, the result is not much less disturbing, and so begs the question, a lá Gladiator’s Maximus, “Are you not entertained?”
Verily, I say. ♦ ♦ ♦