"The Hunger Games"

 ★★ ½ (PG-13)

When Gary Ross decided to tackle Suzanne Collins' ultra popular book Hunger Games' translation onto the screen, I was kind of hopeful. Ross is really no Hollywood hack trying to make a quick buck. His previous 2 films were the delightful Pleasantville and the more than decent horse race flick Seabiscuit. In Hunger Games Ross does the legion of Collins fans proud, of course this all comes with compromises. The books aren't necessarily what I'd call high art in the first place and the story -although an interesting concept- has been done before in films like The Running Man and Battle Royale. The Hunger Games is much tamer than those 2 films and that is one of the problems I had with Ross' film. It doesn't have that Tarantino explicitness going for it. Then again there's is stuff to recommend here too.

The story is set in the near future where a "survivor"-type reality TV show is organized by a big brother-type of government. The catch? the government chosen, lottery picked teenage contestants have to kill off each other with only one winner remaining in the end. Pretty dark stuff right? And Ross does an admirably good job with the story and keeping our attention throughout. The problem lies with the fact that the 140 minute running time isn't enough to fully develop the story. And of the 24 contestants vying to stay alive, only a handful actually get decently developed. There also is a gooey love story that just didn't need to be developed this much -even though I hear it's just as prominent in the book, which kind of explains all the rabid teenage girls that have fallen prey to the novels. The film falls short in being a great Sci-Fi movie because it just doesn't have the social criticism that infused such classics as Minority Report or 2001 - the series' readership sadly does not have the ability to comprehend such heavy stuff.

What keeps this film from being a dissapointment? Jennifer Lawrence's great performance as heroine Katniss Everdine. Lawrence, who's quiet performance in 2010's underrated Winter's Bone still haunts me to this day, shows incredible flair for a 20 year old actress. Her wits as an actress are noticed and the film just wouldn't be the same without her fiery talent. Everdine is an expert archer and her bow is the talent that can keep her from dying in the bloody contest. There are gripping action scenes which are just as disturbing as anything I've seen in Hollywood this year. Kids fighting kids to death? of course that will get our attention, it's a juicy plot that really works at times. However at close to 142 minutes long the film can be draggy and doesn't go anywhere but then again Ross -out of nowhere- can grab our attention by staging expertly done and suspenseful action set pieces.