Scene from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Image courtesy of Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Movie review by Lori Garrett | published Sunday, December 8, 2013 |
Thursday Review Contributing Writer

After seeing the first Hunger Games, I immediately went out and purchased the Suzanne Collins penned books and proceeded to devour them whole. I found the books just as fast paced and entertaining as the original movie. They are written with intelligence and a certain poignancy that you don’t often find in novels aimed at teenagers. There is a lot of desolation and loneliness in this series. Though it is written for a younger audience, no punches are pulled. People die. There is war and famine and destruction. But there is also love and hope and small snatches of happiness, and that’s what makes it seem so real, and also makes it so easy to identify with-especially in this age of indecision and uncertainty.

In case you somehow missed the first movie, here is a quick recap—a teenage girl volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in a fight to the death, winner take all match against other young people that is televised for the amusement of some and the oppression of others. Despite the odds, she makes it to the end and instead of killing the only other survivor, a boy from her same district, she convinces him they should both commit suicide. To most of the more affluent viewers, it is believed that she made this decision out of love for the boy, but in reality it was an act of defiance, and she unknowingly sowed the seeds of rebellion in the huddled masses that make up most of their world. There is so much more to it, but I would have to say that you really should just watch it (or read the novels) yourself.

As a lover of both film and the written word, you could see how I would be extraordinarily excited for the sequel, Hunger Games; Catching Fire. And I was not disappointed. Not only did the talented Jennifer Lawrence-fresh off her Oscar win for The Silver Linings Playbook-do a spectacular job making you feel a deep connection to her character, the always put-upon Katniss Everdeen, but the rest of the ensemble was wonderfully cast as well.

Reading the books, I have to say that the only person who could have pulled off Haymitch was Woody Harrelson, so good job there, and of course the other members of the cast were also impeccably chosen-Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne conveys the particular strength and anger that is so predominant with his role, and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Malark is sweet and romantic and tough in his own way, and portrays his character’s love of Katniss with such honesty, that it seems as if you are really there, peeking into his heart. And I shouldn’t even have to mention the awesomeness that is Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravits as Cinna, and last but most certainly not least, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new game designer and replacement for the ill fated Seneca Crane…but I will. No one could have done better in any of these parts.

As for the rest of the cast, if you squint hard you may make out some familiar faces. My personal favorite characters from the second novel were Beetee and Wiress; their eccentricities made them quite unique. Jeffrey Wright (who I love to hate on Boardwalk Empire as Dr. Narcisse) and Amanda Plummer (whom you may remember as Honey Bunny, the female robber who held up the diner in Pulp Fiction) brought these two characters to life, and considering the few lines they had, that is saying something. Sam Claflin (Pillars of the Earth) as Finnick and Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) as Johanna also deserve an honorable mention.

I have very little to complain about with this movie, except to say I wish it had been a little longer. I know, I know—that’s crazy talk considering that as it stands, it is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. But, truth be told, I think it could have done with being just a bit longer. It is very fast paced, especially the first half, and I think it loses something in the story telling that a few more silences, or perhaps a few more long-angled shots could have fixed. Other than that, I would have to say that this is one of the few book-to-movie adaptations that fans shouldn’t have much to complain about. The script takes the majority of its dialog directly from Suzanne Collins’ writing, and most of the sets looked just as I imagined them as I spent my nights staying up later than necessary, getting all riled up on behalf of Katniss and the people of Panem.

The third installment is being filmed now and will be released in two parts, as is the norm these days for epic story-telling. I highly suggest seeing it in theaters, and if you haven’t yet, I also suggest you pick up the books. You won’t be disappointed either way, I promise.