The Hunger Games

Nov 25, 2013

The film is on fire at the box office.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Grade: B+

Director: Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants)

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), from Suzanne Collins novel, Catchiing Fire

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime:146 min.

by John DeSando

“We don't have to destroy her, just her image. Show them that she's one of us now. Let them rally behind that. They're gonna hate her so much they just might kill her for you.” Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as sequel doesn’t as much generate heat as it does satisfaction, the sense that the filmmakers have done just about everything they could to keep our attention, draw our sympathy, and entertain us all the while staying close to its iconic source.  Here’s a young adult adventure that includes a sensible proletariat heroine, an insensitive ruling class, and romance that reflects the vagaries of humanity’s quest for love.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), on the eve of the 75th Hunger Games, is still torn between respect for her games partner, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and the hunky Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Director Francis Lawrence keeps the focus on the heroine, who, like the rest of us, is flawed, in her case a destructive disdain for corrupt authority figures, embodied in President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Director Lawrence and d.p. Jo Willems keep us seeing from her point of view, a smart strategy to humanize the inhuman proceedings of child killing child in ultimate survival gaming.

Her answer to her difficulties with Capitol authority is to tackle a general and marry Peeta, among other impulses. Yet even with this endangerment, the heroine remains a genuine human being, torn between survival and the nagging feeling that she is meant to save her species. That’s a big gap, but the film makes it possible to bridge it in the imagination and reality. That she just wants her family and herself to survive is a fine narrative innovation for a sometimes formulaic epic. 

Beside the mature performance of Lawrence, who makes a teen torn in love both palatable for adults and almost reasonable, Donald Sutherland is powerful as President Snow, white-haired and bearded, a dark force with an ironic snow-white image, a truly bad Santa. His almost tongue-in-cheek authority plays perfectly behind the devastatingly Nazi-like podium and storm-trooper menace to make the evil just a bit lighter than in real life totalitarianism is.   

In fact, the film is an unusually effective commentary on repressive regimes, currently too many to count on this planet, and the inevitability of the masses rising up. This second installment of The Hunger Game trilogy gets us closer to the rebellion with a heroine both formidable and vulnerable. That’s just so much more human than marvelous superheroes who fly above the rest of us.  

“You fought very hard in the Games, Miss Everdeen. But they were games. Would you like to be in a real war? Imagine thousands of your people, dead. Your loved ones, gone.” President Snow

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at Contact him at