The Hunger Games

Directed By: Gary Ross

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland

There's been a lot of hype around The Hunger Games over the last couple of months.  In no small way, that's due to some strong marketing.  Lionsgate's tagline for the film is "The World Will Be Watching".  That's big talk for the first installment in a series even if it's based on a bestselling book.  It's been called the next Harry Potter.  It's been called the next Twilight.   With the studio's lofty nine figure estimates for its opening weekend, you might just agree with them.  Well, I don't know if The Hunger Games is comparable to something like Harry Potter, but I'm happy to say it's nothing like Twilight.

In the future, the nation of Panem arises from the ruins of North America.  Everyone is not so enamored with this new nation as 12 districts lead an uprising against Panem.  The rebellion, however, is squashed.  To remind the districts of their failed attempts to overthrow the government, the powers that be decide to host Hunger Games on an annual basis.  This dangerous competition is a game of survival where only one can live.  Every year, each district will hold a reaping, or raffle, to select one male and one female to sacrifice for the annual Hunger Games.  Every year, the districts choose 23 unlucky kids who must face death and one lucky kid who will survive.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12 along with her mother (Paula Malcolmson) and her sister Primrose (Willow Shields).  Since her father died, she's been taking care of the family.  Katniss has become a very skilled hunter in the process.  When they hold the annual reaping in her district, Katniss can no longer protect her sister Primrose from the harsh, destitute reality of Panem as her sister must now submit her name for the reaping.  When escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) actually announces the unlucky guy and girl from District 12, Katniss hears the one name she never wanted to hear—"Primrose".  She does what she must to protect her sister and volunteers to compete as a tribute in the Hunger Games in her sister's place.  Along with male tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss must enter a vicious world where only death awaits her behind all the glitz and glamour.  She needs to put those hunting skills to use if she is to live.

The Hunger Games is a captivating tale of love, defiance, and survival.  With a rich story and an elaborate futuristic world, it's utterly engrossing.  The one downside may be that the action is very sparse throughout this nearly two and a half hour movie.  The film is more of a journey than a bloodbath, and director Gary Ross is building a franchise here.  To do so, he must lay the groundwork with a strong story.  Suzanne Collins has certainly given him plenty of material with which to work. 

When there is action though, it's swift and to the point.  Gary Ross definitely makes the action sequences worthwhile.  They're all brutal and somehow exhilarating at the same time.  With that being said, I think The Hunger Games will have more appeal to women than men.  Women come for this intriguing tale of love and survival, while men come to see teens fight to the death in vicious, endless battle.  While you get both, the story significantly outweighs the action.

Jennifer Lawrence may really be the girl on fire.  Her career has taken off in the last couple of years.  Two years ago, no one had ever heard of this girl.  Now, she's been in films such as Winter's Bone, X-Men: First Class, and Like Crazy.   Her performance as Katniss Everdeen shows us just why she's skyrocketed to fame so quickly.  There's a certain authenticity and rawness that she brings to her characters.  As Katniss Everdeen, Lawrence will make you feel like you're with Katniss on this journey.  You'll feel her pain and hardship as she tries to survive in the harsh arena for the Hunger Games.

The other supporting actors have to be commended as well.  Josh Hutcherson does a great job as Peeta.  He's a talented child actor that's transforming into a talented actor period.  Stanley Tucci has taken on a lot of diverse characters in his career.  Playing crazy talk show host Caesar Flickerman with a blue wig certainly adds one more role to that list, and he does it quite well as usual.  Finally, we have Woody Harrelson who's been quite busy lately.  While starring in indie thriller Rampart and the Sarah Palin movie Game Change, Woody managed to crank out another strong performance as Haymitch Abernathy.  He plays a pivotal and highly valued part in the film as Katniss' mentor.  He also brings a little comic relief along the way.

I'm sure the readers of Suzanne Collins' novel will make endless comparisons between the book and the movie.  They will have their complaints, and I could really care less.  The Hunger Games is a good movie that's ultimately a promising start for this new film franchise.  With smart direction and strong performances, the film is pretty captivating.  The Hunger Games gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.