The International Writers Magazine: Film
Catching Fire: Hunger Games -
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson & Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Francis Lawrence. (146 minutes.)
Sam North review
The second one is always a hard task. Do you remind everyone about what happened in the first or just get into it? If you didn’t see part one – well why the hell not?
Dystopian movies for the teen audience can get it wrong. Just the costumes in Ender’s Game put me off and although much of the Catching Fire novel, aside from the killings, was about make-up and costumes (ie symbolism 101) this time it is mercifully tighter (no pun intended) and more effective because of that. There is a terrific realisation of Katniss and Peeta's fire costumes for example.
Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson his role as Peeta – the two fake lovers who gamed the system to survive the first bloodbath. Now Katniss is an icon, a symbol of the coming uprising. She’d like to be left alone – she’s still traumatized from all the killings. Not to be, she and Peeta, with Haymich in attendance, are forced back on the road to face all the other districts with their fake smiles and reassurances. That she has to face the parents who lost loved ones in the games (because she or Peeta killed them) is harrowing. Perhaps this is the best part of the movie in a way. Building doubts and fears and showing just how much of a puppet Katniss and Peeta have become in President Snow’s cruel world. Everything is a sham and whenever rebellion sparks – it is crushed relentlessly. On the train to all the Districts Katniss briefly catches glimpes of the rising tide of anger and the brutal repression. She is the spark for this but doesn't really understand why. All she knows is that she saved her little sister from the games.
||Donald Sutherland plays the harsh President Snow with relish. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a welcome addition as the new Gamesmaster Plutach Heavensbee with a particular fine streak of cruelty and when Snow detects that Katniss is having way too much influence – proves recepetive the idea that all the past victors of the slaughter must do it all over again in the 75th Hunger Games – last one standing wins. They are going to make sure that Katniss kills the districts darlings and will become hated throughout the land.
Coming soon will be Divergent – another teen girl being trained to kill and only gaining respect when she does harm to others. I guess these stories are telling us something about ourselves and the kids out there – but what? I read somewhere that Katniss is a role model now. She kills without emotion, survives at any cost, fakes her love for Peeta for the sake of the ‘media’ – knows she is being used but at least her family get to live well. Seems about right I guess.
Yet, cynism aside, Jennifer Lawrence does bring a human intelligence to the role – she is believable conflicted and flawed and emotional in what has become an endless nightmare for her. Plus she looks good in a wedding dress. Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is a standout - making her appearance by stripping in the elevator to Haymich's and Peeta's delight. She had fun with this role I think.
Supporting actors give their all and they seem well cast and there is genuine conviction up on the screen. One almost wishes one hasn’t read the books because you know what is going to happen – but little things you forget. The orang-u-tangs – the poisonous fog that blisters instantly – tick-tock. The budget seems to have stepped up and District One’s Roman Arena looks more impressive this time around. You can really see the power and wealth concentrated here by contrast to the grinding poverty of the other districts. The researchers have gone all the way back to Rome for inspiration.
Stanley Tucci as the Media Host with the brilliant smile throws himself into this role and it is stunningly sickening as any reality show chewing the screen every time he is on – like the best of game show hosts and this is a game show – the biggest and most violent of its kind.
Despotic dictatorships spawn these kind of people and Katniss – the girl on fire, is as much a product of this society as the evil President and his henchmen. Their endless terror was bound to produce a hero – even if Katniss is a reluctant one. I seem to recall that in the book more was made of the destruction of District 12 but perhaps I mis-remember. All I know is that I was sat with an audience that was deeply wrapped in the moment and that’s good sign.
From the moment battle commences in the tropical forest it seems to slow – perhaps because so much of the killing happened off screen and we didn’t get to see much of anyone else, but I’m pretty sure the last two parts (the book is only one, but hey ho they want to squeeze the dollar) will be keenly anticipated. Don’t wait too long guys.
© Sam North Nov 22nd 2013
author of the Sherlock Holmes novel 'The Curse of the Nibelung'