Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenage girl that inhabits the poor land of District 12, a sector of land that's part of the 12 Districts of the nation of Panem, which has turned into this landscape due to a civil war that broke out over seventy years ago. As a punishment for the war, the Capitol instituted the "Hunger Games," an event where twenty four children ages 12-18 (each have 1 boy and 1 girl serve as "Tributes" to each sector) fight each other to the death until the last person's standing. Katniss volunteers as a "Tribute" to District 12 in order to protect her sister Prim when she's originally chosen as the female Tribute. Afterwards, Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are the two Tributes that will represent District 12 in the Games, and the rest of the film chronicles their progress through the pre-event festivities that eventually culminate in the bloody battle to the death in the arena.
Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood today, and she amazes me yet again with her strongly-committed performance as Katniss Everdeen. She does an impeccable job at embodying Katniss' strong-willed personality and protective nature for those around her, and her chemistry with the actors that play her character's closest friends is very believable. The rest of the ensemble cast is composed of many well-known names that include Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Stanley Tucci, all who do a great job embodying the differing personalities of their colorful characters. Out of all of those big names, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks stand out the most, especially Banks' portrayal of Effie Trinkett that delivers spot-on in the character's over-glamorous and perky personality. In addition, Woody Harrelson continued to show that he's one of the most underrated, versatile actors in Hollywood in his solid turn as District 12 coach Haymitch Abernathy.
Director Gary Ross goes behind the camera for the first time since 2003's "Seabiscuit", and the style he brings to this film ignites the long-awaited comeback he's needed. He enhances a different style for the three main settings expressed in the setting, and they all benefit in certain aspects. While in District 12 or the The Hunger Games event itself, Ross films those scenes mostly with handheld cameras to both enforce the gritty look and sense of danger, while also thrusting the viewer into the experience to feel like they're actually part of the film's events that take place. Meanwhile in the setting of the Capitol, Ross utilizes a still, yet at times very sweeping portrait of the "rich city," which benefits from a striking color palette and vivid imagery within the art design of numerous settings. In addition, Ross' handheld camerawork in the Games never bothered me, because it was an intentional technique that enhanced the realism and fatigued nature of the event to the viewer's point-of-view.
As for any flaws I had with the film, they range with certain changes they made to scenes that I had read from the book beforehand, but I'm not going to be one of those snobs that tears a "book-to-movie" adaptation apart for all the little differences. In addition, while it was interesting to see the point-of-view from the Gamemakers, it just felt tacked on to increase movie's running time from all of the stuff they cut out from the book. Furthermore, I didn't completely feel the romance between Katniss and Peeta, as it felt a little more forced that gradually believable.
Despite the minor flaws though, "The Hunger Games" is a definitively solid first entry in this sure-to-be lucrative franchise that will hopefully overshadow the fandemonium of the "Twilight" phenomenon that's coming to an end soon. At the same time though, the film itself was a bit overhyped, and it didn't completely live up to the great expectations I originally had, but its maturer characters and sweeping settings make "The Hunger Games" a film that is surely not one to miss this year.
Final Grade: B+
Review of "The Hunger Games" on Youtube