Mar 27

A tough teen struggles to survive “The Hunger Games”

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) must use her hunting skills in "The Hunger Games."

Sci-fi thriller “The Hunger Games” is faithful to source material

There are plenty of parallels between Ree Dolly, Jennifer Lawrence’s tough Ozark teen in “Winter’s Bone,” and Katniss Everdeen, her equally courageous character in “The Hunger Games.”

Both are smart, resourceful girls forced by circumstances to provide for their families. Both share special relationships with their younger siblings. And both are willing to risk everything to survive

But while Ree’s greatest challenge is confronting a band of backwoods meth dealers,¬† Katniss must compete in a televised fight to the death — becoming the symbol of an oppressed, ailing nation in the process.

Set in a dark, dystopian version of the United States,”The Hunger Games” takes its title from the government-sanctioned gladiatorial contest that claims the lives of young men and women each year.

For the impoverished Districts, the Games are a nightmarish reminder of an ancient civil war. For the spoiled citizens of the Capitol, they’re entertainment.

When little sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected to compete in the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Together with burly baker’s boy Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), she must learn how to survive in the arena — or die trying.

An action-packed, swiftly paced thriller that recalls elements of “Battle Royale,” “Logan’s Run” and “Lord of the Flies,” “The Hunger Games” captures both the brutality and the emotional rawness of Suzanne Collins’s futuristic science fiction thriller. It’s a bold departure for director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit”), and one that may influence his future career.

Lawrence is well-cast as Katniss, a daring girl in desperate circumstances. As she transforms from a bashful bow hunter to a killing machine, we see her struggle with the knowledge that winning means taking human lives.

The movie wisely downplays the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her hunky hunting partner back home. In this environment, it’s evident that feelings come second to survival.

Josh Hutcherson, whose credits include “The Kids Are All Right” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” is a solid, if unassuming, presence as sincere Peeta. Still, he gets more screen time than Hemswoth (“The Last Song”), who doesn’t make much of an impression.

The¬†adults of “The Hunger Games” approach their roles with more zest.

They include Elizabeth Banks as a status-obsessed publicist, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s confidant/stylist, Wes Bentley as the stylish producer of the Games, and Donald Sutherland as sinister President Snow.

Stanley Tucci in particular seems to relish his role as Caeser Flickerman, the blue-haired, beaming commentator who enjoys the adoration of millions. With Toby Jones as his right-hand man, he alternates between toothy smiles and hushed tones.

Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson hits a high note as former Games champion Haymitch Abernathy, whose time in the arena turned him into a cynical drunk.

“The Hunger Games” will appeal most to moviegoers who have already read Collins’ best-selling book. But there’s plenty here for folks new to the franchise, provided they don’t mind Tom Stern’s shaky-cam cinematography, Judianna Makovsky’s striking costumes, or T-Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard”s haunting soundtrack.

To paraphrase the traditional Games greeting, the odds are in their favor.

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