Watched it again today with my son; and I have to say, on a second viewing I appreciate this much more. There are several elements here that work in unexpected ways; the train stop in District 11 is but the start, but it is a powerful one - it is powerful in the book, but you realize that the use of characters and settings deliver what is one of the first of many body blows. It would be so easy for this to be ham-fisted over the top, but it is subtle; giving you all of the implication and leaving it to your imagination to understand.
The use of the talking point cards - and especially the flat vocal affect that Lawrence uses delivering them gets across a powerful bit of irony - it is easy to see why the district doesn't believe; and despite all the words you can understand the people in the district get the message that these 'victors' are no more than tortured prisoners as well.
This is something that comes across through the book slowly and I always thought would be hard to get across, but presented in the purpose of 'The Hunger Games' as a mean to remind the population of their place in this new order - as nothing but people who serve at the pleasure of the rich - is fully laid out.
The film takes small moments and makes the most of them; a young girl telling Katniss that she hopes that she can be brave enough to volunteer as tribute, and Katniss horror in realizing that she would likely die for following this idea. ... it's a great way to show why we say some people are heroic for their actions, but it doesn't mean they won't be missed greatly by those who loved them for doing it.
This same idea pops up again inside the games with Mags.. and subtle moments with Peeta 'I think she sacrificed herself for me..' in reference to a Morphling from District 9.
This film works in a lot of ways that the book frankly didn't. There are visual cues here and acting punches that are far beyond what you normally see in this kind of film. I gave this film an "A" after I viewed it once; after the second time, I have to say, this is in the top five films I've seen this year.
That says a lot when I put films like '12 Years a Slave' in those ranks.
In fact, outside of 12 Years a Slave, I can't think of another film I've seen this year that manages to address so much in it's time period. There are a lot of films where I said 'if I just had 20 more minutes', I can't think of how you could add - or subtract - much to this film to improve it. I'd still want to see an extended cut, of course, but whoever did the editing on this cut it together in a way that is perfectly satisfying for a theater.
This is a much grown up film from the first, but it is fantastic. My "A" stands, but when I compile my top 10 of the year, it's going to take a lot to bump it down from a high spot.