The first great popcorn movie of the year has arrived in THE HUNGER GAMES (M).
Written and Directed by Gary Ross whose earlier film Pleasantville is a kind of template to this robust action adventure yarn, THE HUNGER GAMES, is the first in a franchise that looks to sweep the cinema in the manner of Harry Potter and Twilight.
Eschewing the supernatural of wizards and vampires, THE HUNGER GAMES is about real flesh and blood characters albeit living in a dystopian future where a civil war of megaton propensity has established a ruling class that exacts annual tributes from 12 districts.
These tributes are in the form of a boy and a girl from the area chosen by lottery to compete in mortal combat with each other and against the contenders from the other districts.
These “games” are televised and attract stupendous sponsorship. The show’s host, Caesar Flickerman has achieved cult status and as played by Stanley Tucci, you can see why. He, and Toby Jones as his co-commentator, Claudius Templesmith, have enormous fun in their roles and create quite a satirical bite to this Brady Bunch Battle Royale.
As the film’s protagonist and heroin, Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence perfectly projects the poise, intelligence and athleticism the role requires. Here is the fulfilment of the promise we saw in Winters Bone a couple of years back, a promise that has been percolating in stellar supporting roles in The Beaver and Like Crazy.
Devoid of werewolves and warlocks, this latest teen market “event cinema” has a lot of meat to its story – conscription, class warfare, capital punishment, the manipulation of the media.
As well as helmer Ross, screenwriting credits also go to Billy Ray whose Shattered Glass and Breach come to mind when thinking about the manipulation on show here, and Suzanne Collins who wrote the novel, which ensures integrity of the source material.
THE HUNGER GAMES is THE TRUMAN SHOW meets SURVIVOR, with a dash of TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN.
Beautifully shot by Clint Eastwood’s cinematographer of choice Tom Stern, the film boasts an exquisite costume design by Judianna Makovsky, Oscar nominated for Gary Ross’ previous film Seabiscuit, and costumer on Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. Also of interest, Steven Soderbergh is credited as one of a trio of second unit directors.
One criticism that could be levelled against the film is that it sidesteps the barbaric base of its story – pitting children against each other in a fight to the death. Pictorially, this is prettified, or at least sanitised. However, the hope is that this self-imposed subtlety isn’t detrimental to the many layers of loftier philosophical and ethical issues inherent in the narrative.
(c) Richard Cotter
25th March, 2012
Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE HUNGER GAMES, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter