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The Hunger Games (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 142 minutes.

Not for children.

Despite all the ballyhoo, this is basically a standard thriller set in the future. Apparently the books are a big hit with teenaged girls, so I was fearing the film would just be more of the same that we got with the Twilight films. But that's not the way it is. This is actually very entertaining and well done, with a stellar cast.

Set in a despotic country in the future, each year 24 teenagers between 12-18, two from each of the country's 12 districts, a male and a female, are chosen to compete in a reality TV game fight to the death with only one winner. That means that 24 teenagers are chosen and 23 will die.

When Jennifer Lawrence's young sister is chosen, Jennifer volunteers to take her place. The boy chosen from the district is Josh Hutcherson, who has loved Jennifer from afar. That means that in order to survive, one will have to kill the other.

The teenagers are turned loose in the forest to either run from each other or to search each other out to kill. All the while they are monitored by the government, who also manipulates the outcome, or tries to, anyway.

Stanley Tucci is very good as the unctuous TV host, as are an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson. Lawrence does a fine job, but not much is required of her, as it was in 2010 in Winter's Bone,  one of the best of that year, a film that required acting to make it work, and for which she received an Oscar® nomination. This really doesn't. She's out there in the forest and she's mostly running and hiding.

One technical aspect I really liked was the archery. I took archery at UCLA (and was the class champion, although I never split an arrow like Robin Hood), so I generally cringe when I see actors in films requiring archery pretending that they know how to use a bow and arrow when they clearly don't. There are many shots of Lawrence using the bow and arrow and she does it exactly the way I learned. Bravo!

I had heard a lot of misleading things about brutality, but, while there is some killing, it's not graphic and it isn't profuse. This is mostly a film about chase and survival, although it takes about an hour for the games to actually begin. While director Gary Ross (who also has a writing credit with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins, the author of the books) keeps the film moving, I can't for the life of me figure out how he stretched this out to almost two and a half hours. There just isn't that much story there. It didn't pass the watch test, because I checked mine innumerable times.

I don't know if the filmmakers were trying to make a statement about totalitarianism, but it's there if you want to see it.