We’ve had some very persuasive movies in the past on how tough it is to be a teenager — Heathers (1988), say, or Kids (1995) or the ultra-violent Battle Royale (2000) — but The Hunger Games (12A) is unambiguous: it’s a jungle out there, so get ready to kill or be killed.
A dystopian sci-fi set in the not-too-distant future, it stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, a 16-year-old who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in The Hunger Games — a government-sponsored reality TV show in which teenagers are armed and released into the wild to fight to the death. Building on her superb turn in Winter’s Bone (2010), Lawrence provides a hugely compelling protagonist, a young woman who is simultaneously a vulnerable victim of circumstance and an Amazonian warrior-huntress. The strong supporting cast includes Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bentley, but it’s the youthful Josh Hutcherson, as Katniss’s partner-in-crime in the killing arena, who proves most impressive. Directed with style, wit and pace by Gary Ross, the movie remains faithful to its literary origins without allowing the book’s reputation to stifle the story’s cinematic potential. The tale does lose its way slightly once the kids embark on their killing spree, as the makers do their best to absolve Katniss of any unnecessary cruelty in order to earn a 12A rating, but for the most part this is a powerful and intriguing opening to what should prove a fascinating trilogy.
This Must Be the Place (15A) is a very odd film. It stars Sean Penn as a washed-up American rock star, Cheyenne, who bears an uncanny resemblance to The Cure’s Robert Smith. Currently hiding out from the world in his Dublin mansion with his long-suffering wife Jane (Frances McDormand), Cheyenne gets a call from America to say that his father is dying. Unable to fly, and reluctant to travel at all, Cheyenne belatedly reaches his father’s side, and discovers that he has already died. Consumed with guilt, Cheyenne sets out on a road-trip to track down the Nazi guard who humiliated his father in a concentration camp. Co-written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, This Must Be the Place is chock-a-block with narrative non-sequiturs — Cheyenne plays handball in his empty swimming pool; Jane, the rock star’s wife, is a firewoman; Cheyenne has a heart-to-heart conversation about creative integrity with musician David Byrne, who plays himself; hardboiled Nazi hunter Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch) finds himself incapable of escaping from a motel bathroom… All told, the film has the feel of a Coen Brothers’ exercise in mild surrealism, albeit one in which they painstakingly set up all the required jokes and then forgot to include the punchlines. Penn’s performance becomes a fascinating one, and ultimately the film exerts a very strange compulsion to see it through to the end. As a metaphor for how confusing and disorientating a mid-life crisis can get, however, it is a little too literal for its own good.
Wild Bill (16s) follows the eponymous anti-hero, played by Charlie Creed-Miles, as he gets out of prison hoping to go straight only to discover his teenage sons have been abandoned by their mother, and his drug-dealing friends want him back in the game. Two excellent performances, from an understated Creed-Miles and Will Poulter playing Bill’s fiercely protective son, set the tone for a downbeat and low-key crime drama played out against the grimy backdrop of London’s East End. Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut is hard-hitting at times, but it’s a terrific tale of how even a single spark of hope can light the path out of squalor.
Act of Valour (15A) is the first of what is likely to be a slew of Navy Seals movies, given that it was a team of US Seals who killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. This revolves around the Seals’ pursuit of arch-criminal Christo (Alex Veadov), who is supplying Islamic terrorists with weaponry. Despite the up-to-the-minute technology and political backdrop, however, it resembles nothing more than an old-fashioned episode of The A-Team rebooted as naked propaganda. Avoid.
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