Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers to go in the place of her much younger sister. Lawrence previously played a protective sister who has to fend for herself while protecting her disadvantaged family in her Oscar-nominated role in Winter's Bone. She is a perfect fit as Katniss in that she captures a girl who is strong, but sometimes unaware of her strength. Katniss knows she has the heart to match her tomboyish intensity, but with such hopeless circumstances, even she is becoming doubtful and perhaps bitter. Thankfully the film does a great job of communicating the two things necessary to really attach us to this character. First, we come to see and understand how corrupt and wrong the future of this world can be. Second, we come to see the believable transformation of a girl into a warrior in another gravitating performance by Lawrence.
Katniss is paired with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Peeta is interesting in that he can be a rough fighter who isn't completely unaware of the dreadful atmosphere of these games, but he also understands the politics and perhaps even the sacrifice that will have to be made to win. Pairing him with Katniss creates a dynamic that helps carry the film from its haunting battle scenes all the way to the final frame. And "haunting" is the absolute right word. The film's battle sequences showcase the brutality when need be, but some of the imagery is left up to the viewer's imagination with the proper cinematography and editing. The choice of Tom Stern's cinematography as well as Ross and his production designer and art director's choices for this film are all very risky, but I think they pulled it off. The costumes of the elite for example work perfectly as parody while the close-up handheld camera-work doesn't disorient, but places me in a state of suspense (I might be alone in that sentiment).
Along with a great supporting cast (of the likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, and Wes Bentley), The Hunger Games was a surprising triumph that I encourage everyone to give a chance no matter what preconceptions they might have as a reader of the book or as someone who just might've caught a glimpse and were unsure of what to make of it.