The Hunger Games

In theaters.

Successfully adapting a book about two dozen teenagers forced to fight to the death into a PG-13 movie is, perhaps, a dubious achievement: can it really be accomplished without sanitizing material that has no business being sanitized? I still have my doubts. Director Gary Ross conjures up stomach-churning tension as the deadly Games approach, but some of that tension goes slack once the event arrives because the suddenly hyperactive camera seems virtually unable to confront the violence at the heart of the story—not just the violent deaths of children but the fact that other children are doing the killing.

That criticism feels a bit bloodthirsty, but one of author Suzanne Collins's greatest accomplishments in her Hunger Games trilogy is creating true horror, not merely an entertainingly dark fantasy world but rather an ever deepening, unsettling, provocative dystopia. I can't help but feel that the transition from page to screen has defanged her vision to some extent.

That said, despite my suspicion that something here has fallen quite short of its mark, I enjoyed the Hunger Games movie a great deal. How could I not? It's a sleekly made film with a stunningly deep cast and an admirably adept, spare screenplay. It allows the actors' performances and the little details of the production to convey subtext, and even better, it trusts the audience to pick up on those nuances. It's a smart, sharp thriller featuring an already iconic heroine—and, yes, a weirdly antiseptic approach to the darkest of her trials. You can't have everything, I guess.