If you are not sure about taking your child to see this movie because of the much publicized violence, perhaps you should not; however, if you are brave enough to take your ten-year old (or older only) you will have found an object lesson for the day, week, and month, and maybe even years to come. It's that powerful!
The Hunger Games is scary, not Halloween or Friday the 13th kind of scary, but rather frightening in the sense of the possibility that it could happen one day in real life and how children would suffer most. Feelings of emotional heft and abject sadness filled me as I watched this film with my daughter, holding her a little bit closer during certain scenes, and understanding full well why she would hide her eyes during others. I might have wanted to myself but the film is so riveting, so well crafted, it would have been hard to turn away.
Director Gary Ross has made a film that is like the precocious child of the film The Running Man and the book Lord of the Flies, and the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is someone we root for throughout, despite the hardship she endures and the ugly things she is forced to do in the name of the game. The "game" is that 24 young people (the youngest being 13) are brought in, briefly trained, and set against each other to kill or be killed until the last one is standing. The fact that all of this is propelled by "hunger" in every essence of what that word implies is evident in the most brutal scenes. It is like a play on those sign holding "Will Work for Food" people, but here it is "Will Kill for Food."
Lawrence is more than a revelation; she is beautiful, broken, ugly, brave, frightened, and frightening in alternating shafts of illumination. Ross has done well to build the tension, the ratcheting up of the kill or be killed game, the cat and mouse where the rodent is just as dangerous (perhaps even more so at times) as the feline. As she learns the ropes and bonds with her fellow contestant Peeta Mallark (a terrific Josh Hutcherson), it seems increasingly possible that Katniss will fight to the last man or woman is standing.
The supporting cast is fantastic; in their strange make-up and powdered wigs, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci shine and are emblematic of this warped future world. Woody Harrelson brings much needed comic relief as Haymitch Abernathy, an advisor for Peeta and Katniss who once won the Hunger Games long ago, but now is a jaded drunk who doesn't think they have much chance of winning, or does he? Donald Sutherland impresses as President Snow, the extent of his evil gradually revealed as the film progresses, and we learn that he controls all and will only tolerate deviation from procedure to a point.