‘Games’ Changer

I don’t know why it’s a continual surprise to me that Woody Harrelson can act. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award twice (for “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “The Messenger”). I’ve liked him in a number of films. But it’s in “The Hunger Games” (out Friday, in case you haven’t heard) that Harrelson has finally seared himself into my brain as one of the best actors working today.

He plays Haymitch, a past winner of the lethal Games who mentors “tributes” Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). He’s the only survivor from his district, meaning he has spent every year since his win taking kids from his hometown and trying to help them not die. Unsuccessfully. Every time. That’s never said explicitly in the film, but you see it weighing on Harrelson’s shoulders in every scene.

There’s one moment in particular when Haymitch watches two children of the Capitol (the Capitol’s children are exempt from the Games) play-fight one another. The look on his face — the pain and disgust and regret — as he watches two children simulating the hell they’ve been spared and relishing in a privilege they did nothing to earn is the image from the film I cannot shake.

In five seconds he created a moment that says so much — and he did it without saying a word.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · March 22, 2012