Film Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Katniss Everdeen has gone through an interesting journey so far in the Hunger Games saga. Strangely, she has often been the victim of circumstance – constantly trying to adjust as things swirl further out of her control. In Catching Fire (2013) she entered the games again, being used (along with Peeta) as an instrument of oppression by the Capitol and the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Anyone find it ironic that the major theme – freedom against control and dictatorship – is told through a billion dollar franchise with marketing and merchandizing coming out of the wazoo? Just some food for thought.
Now comes Mockingjay Part 1 (2014), the first half of Suzanne Collins’ final novel in the series. Adapted by Collins, with Peter Craig and Danny Strong on the screenplay, and Francis Lawrence taking the director’s chair once more, we find the plot moving away from the games and into a war zone. Since this is a “Part 1 of 2,” it makes it difficult to address in a review. The problem with splitting a film into two pieces is you only get to see part of the whole. It’s a set up for everything else that will come, and because of that Mockingjay (at a running time of 123 minutes) feels spread out too thin. There is a lot of filler going on with very little happening in plot and character development. When seen with Mockingjay Part 2 next year, the overall effect may be different, but we can only take what is given.
After the events of Catching Fire, we find Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) transported into the underground headquarters of District 13. What she did during the games proves to be important to the rebellion, as she has now become a symbol for hope. Under the guidance of Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss is molded into “The Mockingjay,” the emblem to bring inspiration to the people.
Talk about “duality.” Just like Katniss was used by the Capitol for their own gain, she’s also used by the rebellion for their purposes. It’s a strange place to be for an action heroine, constantly being plucked, prodded, dressed, and taught what to say and how to say it. Propaganda (or “propos” as it’s termed in the film) works both ways, with the rebellion assigned as the good side. Katniss does the best she can to go with the flow, shooting videos and giving speeches calling out President Snow’s cruelty, just as the Capitol now uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as the voice against her.
This is the darkest entry in terms of tone. Francis Lawrence sets the palette with dirty grays, greens and browns. Death, and the potential for death, basks like a heavy fog. Thankfully, we’re given some light-hearted moments – I particularly enjoyed Katniss’ early attempts to act in videos, as well as her negotiation to keep her sister’s cat in the bunker. But overall, these are very grim surroundings. Gone are the forests and swamps of the games, replaced by destroyed neighborhoods, buildings reduced to rubble, and military artillery everywhere. Oddly enough, with the jungle environments of the last two films, these new areas feel somehow fresh.
The writing shows the filmmaker’s efforts to stretch the material out to feature length. Sadly, characters don’t have much to do here. Hoffman, Harrelson, Moore and Wright are routinely seen standing or sitting around, expounding on how important Katniss is to the cause, while looking very concerned. Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) spend most of their time waiting around, or shooting another propos under the direction of Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her video crew. When the action does ramp up, Katniss is surprisingly absent from most of it. She is shown brooding, weeping, shocked, scared, brave, and everything in between, but doesn’t jump in and join the fray. Maybe all that is saved for the finale.
The saving grace is the quality of the performances. Everyone does a commendable job. Elizabeth Banks sashays with diva-like grandiosity as Effie, stripped of her colorful outfits and making do with the jump suits of the rebel force. Josh Hutcherson goes through dramatic changes that make us wonder where his character will go from here on out. But besides all that, we all know this is the Jennifer Lawrence show. Whatever criticisms one may have, there is little doubt that Lawrence is the engine driving this film and the franchise as a whole. She has great command of the screen, and believably delivers strength and vulnerability in equal measure. Katniss may not have much to do at this point, but Lawrence never fails at convincing us she’s still the central piece of the puzzle.
I’m sure everyone in the world will see Mockingjay Part 1, and I’m sure many will love it. From this writer’s perspective, it was good but not great. However, if its purpose was to make me curious to see what happens in the final entry, I’ll say it did its job.