Lawrence is too old to be playing the 16-year-old Katniss. Aside from that, she’s stunningly good in a role that fans of the book will demand a lot from. She’s resolute yet terrified, a heroine fighting for her life but refusing to descend into depravity. Harrelson complements her with the right mix of surliness and heart.
The tributes range from towering physical specimens who’ve trained their whole lives for the Games to slight young teens who never had a chance at survival. Once they are raised into the arena, an artificial mountain setting where the elements are manipulated from a high-tech control room, the killings begin. And it isn’t pretty.
Knives fly and bodies crumple. One boy has his throat slashed, while another has his neck broken. Ross, however, is able to mute some of the carnage, which no doubt helped the film avoid an R-rating. Many of the killings are implied, taking place off screen, or depicted from a distance or through a shaking camera lens. But they are no less harrowing.
The tension among the desperate tributes, the starving districts and the callous Capitol residents is always kept tight. One particularly heartbreaking scene depicts a lobby where bets are being placed on the tributes. Haymitch looks across the room to see young children opening a gift from their father, which turns out to be a sword. He is noticeably pained as the children playfully act out a killing.
Ross, who co-wrote the script with Collins, makes it awfully difficult not to ache for the tributes and downright impossible to view the Games the way the Capitol populace does.
The book’s devotees will miss some complexities and nuances of the written work. And at a lengthy two hours and 22 minutes, it’s difficult to imagine the conclusion feeling rushed, but it does. The visuals are also likely to disappoint those who have vivid images of the opulent and grotesque Capitol lifestyle in their heads. Still, it’s a faithful adaptation, and fans of the book should be satisfied, if not thrilled.
“The Hunger Games” is not carefree entertainment, and it’s not for young kids. But those mature enough to see the violence in context, handle the heavy themes and undergo a periodic shredding of their emotions are in for a captivating experience.
“The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens; running time: 142 minutes
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