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‘THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE’ (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik
Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt
Based on Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, 
Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, 
Lenny Kravitz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, 
Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Lionsgate / Rated PG-13

Full disclosure: I’m a BIG fan of the Hunger Games Trilogy so my feelings in this review are biased. In short – Catching Fire is EPIC.

Now, I didn’t really enjoy the first Hunger Games film – why? I thought it watered down the scarier themes of the novel and was soft around the edges so as to appeal to the young adult crowd.

And fair enough.

Depicting children of a totalitarian country murdering each other for the entertainment of the top-class citizens isn’t exactly kid-friendly material.

The first film had a few intense moments of passion but the characters didn’t seem comfortable, and the true cruel state of living outside the Capitol was a bit hidden. People of Panem looked impoverished and hungry, but the dread present in the books wasn’t in the film.

I mention these flaws to emphasize just how good a job Francis Lawrence does in the second installment, Catching Fire. To him I give the utmost respect and congratulations – you fucking nailed it.

The last we saw, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were headed back to District 12. There they deal with the aftermath of their actions in the arena. To be clear, threatening double suicide with poisonous berries is a VERY BIG F-YOU to the Capitol and was NOT okay (to say the least) with President Snow.

As victors of the Hunger Games, they must get ready to tour the country, face their victims’ families, and deal with the repercussions of their “lover’s act” – it may or may not have sparked a rebellion.

And the second film begins…

Katniss and Peeta tour the country parading their love and promoting the propaganda of the Capitol’s magnificence with the main objective of suppressing any ideas of revolting.

But as the 75th Annual Hunger Games approach we are given the sick twist of the story: the Tributes will be chosen from all existing pools of Victors. That means Katniss and Peeta are returning to the arena – which is a perfect depiction of Collins’ incredible world. And the forces within are ever present and torturously deadly.

The fantastical, childish nature of the first movie isn’t present in the second. Catching Fire is mature, sad and uncomfortable. It brings to light the allegoric obsession with media and reality TV and the ever-widening class systems of our current society. What I love so much about Collins’ work is that it’s an introduction to war to teens in a non-romanticized fashion. These tributes are tortured emotionally and physically for upper-class amusement and there is rarely pause for a sweet moment. This film relishes in the agony and terror of its subjects. Achieving the tension and fast pace of the book, making the two and half hour production feel full and exciting.

Every performance in this film is fantastic.

The entire cast looks comfortable and confident in their respective roles and the depth of each character is subtle and incredibly genuine to the story.

Jennifer Lawrence is the queen of the film. And she takes the inner monologue of the book and beams it effortlessly through her eyes with pure fear and anxiety. Katniss suffers from severe post-traumatic-stress disorder and it’s all she can do to not be trembling at any given moment. Lawrence’s ability to maintain her strength, however, in the face of all that fear is just pure genius acting.

Peeta similarly suffers from PTSD, but Josh Hutcherson has such tenderness in his delivery, that even while he might be floundering under the surface, his capacity to love outweighs his fears, making him the lovable rock of these characters. While his competition, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, is towering, gorgeous and strong, he doesn’t have that innate lovability that Peeta does. The dynamic is incredible.

The rest of the supporting cast is equally wonderful: starting with the unnerving calm of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair is sexy and confident. I have had an odd disdain for Jena Malone for a long time, but she completely kicks ass as the hardened, deadly Johanna Mason. Of course, Stanley Tucci is brilliant, terrifying, but brilliant as a comedic Host. And President Snow’s sadistic cruelty is made more horrifying by Donald Sutherland’s gentle smile and almost seductive demeanor. Woody Harrelson is tragic and comedic as the tormented victor, Haymitch. And Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, promotes one of the most emotional moments of the film just with her quivering chin as her world is shattered when her young victors are forced back into the arena.

The actors are so immersed that they seem to have been doing this for years, they’re deep into their roles so the emotions are authentic making the horror of the arena even more palpable.

I can’t praise this film enough. There is so much more to expand upon, analyze, and cherish about this successful book-to-film production. It was done so right. Go enjoy.

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