Friday, 30 March 2012

Film reviews: 30 March

But Kat Brown is still thrilled by the distinctly dystopian The Hunger Games

Written by Kat Brown
After the ongoing hysteria surrounding Twilight, you'd be forgiven for ignoring new teenbooks- turned-films in favour of a G&T and a Borgen boxset.

But dismiss this dystopian drama at your peril. For it is, quite simply, terrific.

Suzanne Collins's hit trilogy is set in post-apocalyptic North America, renamed Panem and made up of 12 impoverished districts ruled by the wealthy Capitol. Here, the powers-that-be punish the districts for a past uprising by forcing them to enter two children from each area as tributes in a yearly battle to the death: the titular Games.

If this sounds familiar, it has form on screen. Like the 1999 Japanese novel Battle Royale, and its hit screen adaptation, Panem's Hunger Games pits teenagers against each other as punishment for past transgressions. And, like 2001's Series 7: The Contenders, this is done as a feted reality TV show. Unlike both fi lms, however, The Hunger Games operates with the glossy sheen of a deranged Miss World contest, hosted by a 'civilisation' that is at once enthralling and chillingly alien, thanks largely to some phenomenally over-the top acting – Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones are particularly good as the Games' hosts – and some eye-popping costumes.

While the residents of each district dress like they've fallen out of an Amish clothing sale, they're guarded by what look like fetishised Stormtroopers. The residents of the Capitol, all garish colours and foot-long eyelashes, look like they've been dressed by Willy Wonka and Gareth Pugh, rather than Harry Potter costume designer Judianna Makovsky. It's a fantastic way of highlighting the differences between the haves and the have-nots.

Jennifer Lawrence, last seen winning an Oscar nomination in Winter's Bone, is superb as District 12's hero Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers as a tribute in order to save her younger sister. While she's worthy, there's no golden good streak, just a need to survive and a bleak loathing for what her world has become. Rather wonderfully, there's no exaggerated mention of her being female, either. All is fair in the unfair world of the Games.

Through her kindness and the archery skills honed by illegal hunting, Katniss gains the muchneeded support of both the Capitol's applauding viewers and a sympathetic stylist (rock star Lenny Kravitz, following up his low-key role in Precious a few years ago). Unbeknown to her, she has also long held the affections of her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson); and the Capitol soon plots to add a star-crossed lover element in the Games to keep dissent among the increasingly angry Districts at bay.

Don't be fooled by the tweefriendly 12A certificate – Jaws, lest we forget, is the same. In the arena of the Games, what you hear, rather than see, is more unnerving than any actual violence, while arguably the most disturbing thing of all is the world itself. Gripping, thrilling and fantastic, this dystopia is like The Handmaid's Tale with the sex dialled down and the death turned up.

Book ahead


Kew The Music, 3 to 8 July, with Will Young, Tim Minchin and The Gipsy Kings. Kew Gardens, London: 0871-231 0834, www.kew.org/music


Vincente Minnelli season at BFI Southbank, 3 April to 3 May. Includes An American In Paris, and an extended run of The Bad And The Beautiful. BFI, Southbank, London: 020-7928 3232, www.bfi.org.uk/southbank


Off the Peg Fashion from the 1940s and 1950s, 1 April to 31 October, National Museum of Costume, Dumfries: 0131-225 7534, www.nms.ac.uk


Queen Katherine Parr Quincentenary Festival, 1 April to 28 October, Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe: 01242-604244


Betrayal, by Harold Pinter, starring John Simm. 17 May to 9 June, Sheffield Crucible: 01142-496000

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