I went in to the Multiplex and saw one of my favorite actresses in action last week. Jennifer did her usual well-crafted and heartfelt performance. Her character here bears several similarities to Ree Dolley, from “Winter’s Bone”, not the least of which is the headstrong girl being thrust into a maternal role by the emotional absence of her mother. At least in “The Hunger Games”, Mom seems to be snapping out of her doldrums, towards the end of the film.
Suzanne Collins may be trying the patience of some, with the odd names she’s given some of the characters, especially “Katniss”, but the premise of the story is plausible enough. Granted, some scenes are eerily reminiscent of Stephen King’s “The Running Man” and “The Stand”, but Stanley Tucci’s Caesar is no cookie-cutter Fascist, in the mold of Richard Dawson’s Damon Killian, nor is President Snow as menacing as Jamey Sheridan’s Randall Flagg.
The rest of the cast contributes, to varying degrees. Josh Hutcherson, as Peeta, is probably the next strongest character- which is fortunate, given that Katniss needs him, in order to get out alive. Tucci (Caesar) and Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) seem to be having a blast, in their respective roles. Wes Bentley, as the Hunger Games coordinator, Seneca, is suitably conflicted between his loyalty to President Snow ( a rather tepid Donald Sutherland) and his reverie over the notion of teen romance ( as in his contriving a relationship between Katniss and Peeta). Liam Hemsworth (Gayle) seems to function mainly as a Girl-Candy counterbalance to Jennifer, but it’s not her beauty that’s the draw here. The young lady can act, very well.
The scenes of the Capitol (a three-way cross between Washington, Las Vegas and Denver) are cartoonish at best, but we could see that coming, as soon as Effie Trinket (a goofy Elizabeth Banks) shows up, escorted by Star Wars-ripoff guards, in the down-at-the heels mining camp where the Everdeens live. The mountainous Games venue puts Jennifer/Katniss in her element, and she carries the film quite well. Amandla Stenberg (Rue) steals a few scenes, and may be a rising star in her own right.
Jennifer Lawrence is one of several versatile and very watchable young women in film, along with Dakota and Elle Fanning, Anna Sophia Robb, Evan Rachel Wood, Elizabeth Olsen, Gabourey Sidibe, Anna Popplewell, Shailene Woodley and the sadly absent-of -late Caitlin Wachs and Mischa Barton. The present series is a worthy venue for Ms. Lawrence to grow in stature, in the public eye.