Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2012. Lionsgate, Color Force. Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Produced by Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik. Music by James Newton Howard. Production Design by Philip Messina. Costume Design by Judianna Makovsky. Film Editing by Christopher S. Capp, Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling. Golden Globe Awards 2012. New York Film Critics Awards 2012. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2012.
Deliverance and Westworld are combined for the teen set in this terrific adaptation of the popular novel by Suzanne Collins. It takes place in the chillingly not-so-distant future, where humanity’s crimes against itself have resulted in an authoritative government that chooses to control the need for violent expression in an unusual way (at least unusual unless you’ve already seen The Tenth Victim, or read about a thousand books about dystopian futures): relegating it to a series of games in which young people from various districts of what used to be the United States compete to the death for food. Jennifer Lawrence volunteers for her sector after her sister is chosen by the random Shirley Jacksonesque lottery that determines these things, suddenly finding herself the subject of national attention as she is prepped and trained (by a stylist, not a physical trainer, in one of the film’s many not-so-subtle commentaries on the future of celebrity obsession) for the days she will spend in the wilderness foraging for food and hunting down her fellow players. There are a lot of concerns to be expressed here regarding the violence depicted: young teens (some of them as young as twelve) going at each other with knives will be a problem for the more conservative viewer, but what Collins was likely getting at, and what director Gary Ross seems to understand without overstating the point, is that children being literally at each other’s throats is the expected outcome of a culture that forces young people to acquire agency and accomplishment, both professional and sexual, at a young age before achieving the maturity that is normally supposed to cultivate these things. The film itself is a great entertainment despite a few drawbacks: Gary Ross is far too anxious to get through a novel’s worth of plot to really let the film wallow in any of its narrative conceits, and some of the supporting cast members fail to be anything more than silly cameos (Woody Harrelson‘s wig is distracting, Elizabeth Banks can be gussied up in a crazy outfit and makeup but is still one of the most two-dimensional, dishonest actors in movies). What really makes it tick is Lawrence herself, a superb performance from this exceptionally charismatic actor who gives the film all of its emotional depth and forces you to care about her character’s outcome.