Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Hunger Games (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence made her mainstream breakthrough with The Hunger Games and all I can do is thank the film for it*. She had previously garnered critical acclaim for her performance in Winter's Bone, but ultimately it was The Hunger Games that brought her to the attention of the general movie-going public.

The Hunger Games follows the trials of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she and boy she knows make their way to and through the country's annual battle-royale style challenge. The pair live in a world where one country has been divided into twelve poor production districts that exist only to serve those in the wealthy capital. Every year, as a punishment for a failed revolution, the capital selects a young man and young woman from each district to fight it out in a battle to the death until only one remains.

The issues of the whole political structure of this world are kind of glossed over, but that's fine when you consider that 1) it's primarily an action/adventure film 2) it's a family film and 3) that's simply not what the film's about. There's a little mocking of the ridiculous ruling class in the styling (they look like Victorian aristocrats who got early access to an LSD stash) and they're generally held in contempt by everyone but themselves and that's enough for the political slant.

A real, positive message comes embodied in Katniss. For a nice change we have a female action star who provides a great role model for women. Although there are numerous examples of women being the lead in an action movie it often comes with a caveat: Haywire has Gina Carano as Jason Bourne in heels, Terminator 2 has the badass Linda Hamilton... who has to rely ultimately on Schwarzenegger to save the day and Salt features Angelina Jolie in a role that was intetionally written as gender-neutral and, I'm convinced, boring. Lawrence as Katniss strikes the careful balance though; she is both strong and feminine while being an active actor on the story and displaying typically masculine traits without losing said femininity. In one instance the plot forces her into the carer/mothering role but it's done out of compassion while still remaining a powerful force in the story. Thankfully, all the good work is preserved too, by the reluctance of the film-makers to try and establish Lawrence as a sex-symbol which, let's be honest, would not be difficult to do. Katniss spends a majority of her time grubby, bloody and practically dressed.

The Hunger Games takes quite a meandering road to reach the meat of the plot (the actual Games themselves) but once there it pulls no punches and delivers the entertaining and engaging spectacle that the hour previous was building up to. Having twenty-four contestants in the games themselves does water things down a little, and occasionally character's will pop up, make a point and then disappear back into the crowd or the brush, but ultimately the film is easy to follow and doesn't over complicate itself by doing too much world-building or going off on tangents.

One thing I will say though, and this might constitute spoilers, it really annoyed me that I thought I was going to get a clever play on "star crossed lovers" towards the end, but it just turns out that one scriptwriter doesn't know what that phrase actually means.

*If you haven't seen Silver Linings Playbook, do yourself a favour and check it out. I know, romcoms are usually terrible, but it's great and uplifting and JLaw kills it.

Bonus! Other (vaguely actiony) films with worthwhile female leads:
Alien (1979)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (either 2011 or 2009)
Scream (1996)
The Descent (2005)
and on a less actiony note: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Hard Candy (2005)

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