The Hunger Games (2012)
A solid, good looking film with a personable lead.
The movie suffers a little from it's second hand nature (yes the game itself is similar to Battle Royale but only on a superficial level) but makes up for it in small details. One of it's strengths is it's general lack of exposition, it expects you to pick on on things mentioned off hand and grants a measure of intelligence to it's audience (or it could just be expecting the sizeable following of the book to fill in the blanks themselves).
This strength comes at a price though. It is not clear how everything works in this film (not least why the hell it is called the hunger games in the first place) so when the rules are changed it lacks impact and unfortunately makes the ending a touch inert.
Likewise it spends a commendable time setting up the world (if slightly vaguely) and Jennifer Lawrence's place in it but when it comes to the others in the game it's hard to work up any interest beyond 'oh she's angelic looking and helps someone for some reason'. A character who survives most of the game by not being seen in the film suggest an interesting underdog backstory (she ranks poorly in the trials but makes it to top four) but she like most others is a wisp ( i only recall her because of her striking red hair not sure if she was even named in the film) of nothing.
It plays the drama all too coyly, there is no sense of great betrayal when a character hooks up with the 'nasty gang' because it's hard to see what makes them any worse than anybody else. A sympathetic character's death barely registers (to me - at least the film reacts as if it's an important event just doesn't justify it being so) because it dances around the idea that Lawrence would eventually have to kill her anyway.
Gary Ross brings a real tangible, tactile feel to the film that greatly helps smooth over the vagueness. Doubled with Lawrence's terrific performance it makes for an interesting, decent kids story with just enough hints at depth to satisfy.
Also every time I saw Wes Bently:
I hoped to see:
But alas, no Starburns for me.