The Hunger Games Review: The Odds are Ever in Lionsgate's Favor

Imagine a world where social classes are divided, the government rules all and for some, each day is a struggle to stay alive.

If this doesn’t sound all that unrealistic, you see my point. In Panem, the dystopian world created by the now wildly famous author Suzanne Collins, a fractured North America has been split into 13 districts, each of which serves a specific purpose under the oppressive Capitol. Think Washington, D.C., with far more surveillance, busier streets and bizarre fashion choices rarely seen off a runway.

Enter 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, played by Hollywood newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, a headstrong, beautiful young woman living in District 12. She lives a bare-bones existence with her 12-year-old sister Prim and their widowed mother. Katniss spends her days either hunting for game in the woods surrounding her dreary district or downtown, bartering for food alongside her childhood friend Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth.

Seventy-four years prior to the day we meet Katniss and her entourage, a great uprising occurred in rebellion against the Capitol. Countless lives were lost and District 13 was obliterated by the end of the upheaval. As a means to suppress the possibility of another rebellion, the Capitol created the horrific Hunger Games, an annual event in which one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 — called tributes — are selected at random from each district to compete to the death in an arena.

The last tribute standing is declared the winner, but that’s not all — the event is televised and broadcast to each district as a sick form of government-controlled entertainment.

When citizens of the Capitol visit District 12 to make their selection of an unlucky boy and girl — an event known as “the reaping” — young Prim is chosen. In a dramatic act of bravery, Katniss volunteers herself instead and seals her fate as a tribute for the 74th Hunger Games.

She is joined by Peeta Mellark, an unassuming blond fellow played by Josh Hutcherson, who she’s sure she recognizes from somewhere. The two are whisked away to the Capitol and placed under the instruction of mentor Haymitch Abernathy, who, as luck would have it, is more often drunk than sober.

Haymitch, played by an unexpected Woody Harrelson, provides some much-needed comic relief in this bleak tale. He survived the 50th Hunger Games and is the only living victor to hail from District 12. As a mentor, he isn’t much, but he forms a bond with Peeta and Katniss just the same, eventually offering some useful advice.

Equally memorable is the disgraceful Effie Trinkett, played by a surprisingly spot-on Elizabeth Banks. She serves as emcee for the reaping and is saddled with the task of chaperoning Katniss and Peeta on their way to the arena. Her powder-white skin and garish makeup are horrifying, made all the more disturbing by her vapid ignorance and shameless social ladder-climbing.

“The Hunger Games” is the wedding cake of the film world. It’s highly anticipated, sweetly satisfying and it looks pretty but leaves viewers hungry for more. Perhaps that’s wise, given that Lionsgate has yet to release “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” the latter installments of the three-part series.

While packing all the punch of a heavily hyped blockbuster, the film jumps around a bit in places and loses focus at times, often panning too quickly from one scene to the next and creating a shaky, dizzying effect. This becomes less bothersome when coupled with the talent of Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the quirky and dazzling master of ceremonies and host of the television coverage of the Games.

To add to the star-studded cast is Donald Sutherland as cold, calculating President Snow and a charming Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ stylist for the Games.

True “Hunger Games” aficionados will appreciate that the script does not stray far from the original book, and Lawrence seems a perfect choice to play Katniss. It’s about time the female lead in a movie largely attended by teenagers has more on her mind than getting the guy.

Move over, Bella. Katniss is here and she has a bow and arrow.

Grade: B+