The setting is a dystopian post-apocalyptic society. It doesn’t strike me as a plausible future for our world but it might work in some alternate history universe. In any case it is the long-standing prerogative of social satirists to create a strange land with odd customs.
About 75 years ago the nation of Panem was rent by a horrific civil war. After it was over the losers were divided into 12 districts. As part of their punishment each district is required every year to hand over two teenagers as “tributes”, a boy and a girl. The tributes are required to participate in a lethal reality TV show called “The Hunger Games.” The whole nation watches in fascination as the contestants kill each other off. Eventually the lone survivor is awarded a generous cash prize and valuable merchandise and is feted as a hero.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has grown up in District 12, a coal-mining region resembling rural Appalachia. Food is scarce there and she has grown adept at supplementing her family’s diet through illegal hunting using a bow and arrow.
At the annual lottery to select the tributes her younger sister is selected and Katniss volunteers to take her place. Also selected is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy she knows only slightly but who has a crush on her.
The two of them are put on a bullet train that speeds them to the Capitol, a splendid futuristic city where the people are smarmy and wear garish makeup.
Katniss and Peeta are assigned a mentor: Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) the only surviving winner from District 12. Unfortunately he turns out to be an embittered alcoholic who isn’t much help.
Katniss gets better advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) a sympathetic fashion consultant.
Though they are given some training in martial arts and survival skills, Cinna warns her that it is even more important to sell herself to the audience. In the course of the game the more popular contestants are sent gifts of food, medicine or weapons. This can be vital to survival.
This movie could easily have been very bad. The fact that it isn’t is largely due to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss. She is the only really admirable character. Most of the others are either weak or over-the-top evil. She carries the whole movie on her shoulders.
Parents should be aware that though this film is marketed to young viewers it is very dark and violent. The camera turns away just enough to qualify for a PG-13 rating. You probably thought that the last few Harry Potter movies were pretty violent. The violence here may be technically on the same level but it struck me as even more disturbing because it seemed more believable.