Kat­niss a hero for all ages

The Hunger Games

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

When I first caught wind of The Hunger Games I dis­missed it as a Hol­ly­wood knock-off and likely a wa­ter­ing down of Bat­tle Royale. It kind of is, re­gard­less of au­thor Suzanne Collins’ claimed ig­no­rance of the Ja­panese cult book and film when she wrote her own in­sanely pop­u­lar slice of teen glad­i­a­to­rial fan­tasy. But Bat­tle Royale didn’t have a char­ac­ter to in­vest in like Kat­niss or an ac­tor as en­gag­ing as Jen­nifer Lawrence, who wowed crit­ics in Win­ter’s Bone and wooed fan­boys in X-men: First Class.

Quite sim­ply, she owns this picture.

Lenny Kravitz act­ing? The wacky cos­tumes and fa­cial hair? The il­log­i­cal premise that a rul­ing class would de­vise a game that en­cour­ages its sub­servient out­ly­ing ‘‘dis­tricts’’ to train chil­dren in war­fare? I got past ev­ery reser­va­tion by grasp­ing the hand of Ms Lawrence, much like Peeta (Josh Hutch­er­son), the love in­ter­est/ side- kick to her dom­i­nant, en­chant­ing huntress.

It’s the fu­ture and the United States (and we can as­sume the world) has been rav­aged by war and famine. What’s left of Amer­ica is Panem, a na­tion gov­erned by the Capi­tol, a city of ex­trav­a­gance and big hair, and fu­elled by 13 largely poor dis­tricts.

As pun­ish­ment for a past up­ris­ing against the Capi­tol, each year the dis­tricts must pro­vide two ‘‘tributes’’ – a teenage boy and girl – via lot­tery to com­pete in The Hunger Games. Re­al­ity tele­vi­sion at its most ob­scene: 24 mostly nor­mal youths forced to kill or be killed un­til only one re­mains.

We fol­low Kat­niss into the mad­ness of the games af­ter she vol­un­teers to save her younger sis­ter from the same fate. Tributes are pa­raded and trained be­fore be­ing dropped into a domed for­est with a mul­ti­tude of weapons at their dis­posal.

Mi­cro cam­eras are ev­ery­where and the ‘‘di­rec­tor’’ (Wes Bent­ley) can even ma­nip­u­late the weather and wildlife.

Mums and dads may gag at a movie where teenagers killing teenagers is home en­ter­tain­ment – let alone see it them­selves – but The Hunger Games does not bear a heart of dark­ness. Re­mem­ber, di­rec­tor Gary Ross was also re­spon­si­ble for Pleas­antville, an­other splen­did – though very dif­fer­ent – fa­ble where teenagers ral­lied against so­cial in­jus­tice and com­pla­cency.

Much of the vi­o­lence is im­plied and none is glo­ri­fied, of­ten muted by the fren­zied cam­era work. The over­rid­ing theme is one of em­pow­er­ment, both in Kat­niss’ de­ter­mi­na­tion and skill to beat the game, and the sub­ver­sion of gen­der roles typ­i­cal of Hol­ly­wood ac­tion/ad­ven­ture movies.

There’s a cute, de­fin­i­tive mo­ment when Peeta tells Kat­niss ‘‘I’ll take the bow’’.

The line is a self-ef­fac­ing joke. Kat­niss is the sharp-shooter, the decision-maker, the leader in their re­la­tion­ship – not only will Kat­niss take the bow, she’ll tell Peeta ex­actly what he should be do­ing if he wants to stay alive.

This is a big deal for a picture that comes with a built-in fan­base of fa­nat­i­cal teenagers – and for cinema in gen­eral. It’s a sad in­dict­ment of Hol­ly­wood when the cam­era work is no­table and no­tice­able for not ob­jec­ti­fy­ing the heroine.

Sad­der still are those crit­ics com­plain­ing that Lawrence wasn’t skinny enough for the role.

No, she doesn’t look mal­nour­ished, but nei­ther do any of the other tributes – so why pick on her?

In ap­pear­ance, ac­tions and at­ti­tude, Kat­niss is a pos­i­tive role model for young women, a qual­ity en­hanced by the quiet grace Lawrence brings to the role.

The Hunger Games does have its weak­nesses.

The so­cial satire could have been played smarter and the role of spon­sors is ei­ther overem­pha­sised early in the picture or un­der-used once the Games be­gin.

Some view­ers will also find it vex­ing how Kat­niss only finds her­self fight­ing creeps, sim­pli­fy­ing The Hunger Games into a con­test of good ver­sus evil.

When­ever it looks like she may have to aim her ar­rows at a sym­pa­thetic kid, poi­sonous berries or a wild an­i­mal in­ter­venes.

What would Kat­niss do when faced with killing or be­ing killed by a child as in­no­cent and sym­pa­thetic as her­self? The ques­tion burns through­out The Hunger Games, but is never an­swered.

Odds in her favour: Jen­nifer Lawrence cap­ti­vates in teen glad­i­a­to­rial fan­tasy The Hunger Games.

Star­ring Jen­nifer Lawrence, Josh Hutch­er­son, Wes Bent­ley, El­iz­a­beth Banks, Woody Har­rel­son, Stan­ley Tucci, Don­ald Suther­land, Wil­low Shields. Screen­play by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, di­rected by Gary Ross. 142 min­utes, rated M (con­tains vi­o­lence). Show­ing Read­ing Porirua and Light House Pau­ata­hanui cine­mas.

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