"He was so dull in both Snow White and the Huntsman and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End that I'm actively dreading his turn at Finnick."
"Somehow even duller and dopier than Orlando Bloom's Will Turner."
"Does anyone honestly remember that movie ever existing, much less Claflin's role in it?"
I've said a lot of mean things about Sam Claflin over the years, and I'm here to make amends for it. The 27-year-old Brit was so deadly dull in the only two movies he's made, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White and the Huntsman, that when he was cast as Finnick in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire I immediately started throwing daggers. Sure, Claflin is handsome and blond, and he's the flavor of the moment when it comes to pretty boys filling space in blockbusters alongside the actual stars (see also: Orlando Bloom, Ben Barnes, Hayden Christensen, Garrett Hedlund). But Finnick is probably the best character in the entire Hunger Games franchise, full of charisma and sexual energy, while Claflin was the guy who failed to strike up chemistry with a mermaid and Kristen Stewart in two separate blockbusters. Could he possibly be a worse choice for the golden dreamboat from District 4?
But I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong, and I'm thrilled to report just how wrong I was. Claflin makes a fantastic Finnick. From the moment he first approaches Katniss before the victor's parade, chomping on a sugar cube in a scene lifted directly from the book, he nails Finnick's blend of charisma and slight danger; even if you've read the books and know about the relationship the two will develop, you wonder right alongside Katniss if Finnick is worth trusting. He's charming, he's beautiful, he's a little wicked, but he's also devoted to Mags (Lynn Cohen), the elderly fellow tribute from District 4; director Francis Lawrence develops their relationship even deeper than the book does, giving Finnick a larger soft side-- but never letting go of the idea that he might betray our heroes without a moment's notice.
Claflin clearly did some major training to look good fighting with a trident, and he pulls it off-- you don't realize it, but you've never seen anyone wield a trident except King Triton in The Little Mermaid, and it can't have been easy to look good while using a giant fork as a weapon. He also, let's admit it, looks pretty great with his shirt off, even though the costume designers seriously disappointed me by not outfitting Claflin in the sheer golden net described in the book. But most importantly, Claflin did exactly what I constantly said he couldn't-- he found the charisma and appeal that was totally absent in his previous roles and turned Finnick into a character as compelling as he was in the reader's imagination.
The Hunger Games series isn't short on hunks, from the murderous Career tributes in the first one to ever-reliable Peeta and Gale-- hell, I'd even lump Lenny Kravitz's Cinna in there. But Finnick is by far the best written, lacking Gale's morose self-regard and Peeta's moony emotions, emerging first as just a self-serving charmer and then revealing more depth over the course of Catching FIre and especially Mockingjay. If there's any reason to actually look forward to Mockingjay being split into two parts, it's that we'll get to see more of Finnick. It took Sam Claflin three tries, but he's finally found the franchise that proves he deserves star status. Orlando Bloom's got nothing on that.