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New Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali, Paula Malcomson
Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is not as good as Catching Fire. Whereas the last movie was epic in terms of both storytelling and action, Mockingjay feels a few beats off. It's not very exciting, for starters, and while the story here is well handled by director Francis Lawrence, it's also incomplete. This first part of the final chapter in The Hunger Games franchise is basically all set-up for what one hopes will be an explosive finish next year. That's not to say the movie is boring (it isn't), but it does tend to meander on occasion.
With that said, Mockingjay - Part 1 is still a good movie, and much better than some critics will lead you to believe. It's miles better than the original, and the movie is unflinchingly (and refreshingly) grim and dark. Here is a movie where the story's heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), returns to her home District and finds it destroyed and littered with the skeletal remains of the District's residents. It's also the sort of movie where the film's villain, President Snow (a deliciously evil Donald Sutherland), bombs a hospital full of innocent people because of their devotion to Katniss. Rebelling against a totalitarian government comes with horrific consequences, and Mockingjay doesn't shy away from showing them to us.
Picking up shortly after the end of the previous movie, Mockingjay finds Katniss and Finnick (Sam Claflin), who were rescued from the Quarter Quell games in the previous movie, hiding in an underground military bunker in District 13 with an army of rebels and the remaining survivors of District 12, which includes Katniss's mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Prim (Willow Shields). The leader of this underground city, President Coin (Julianne Moore, sporting a pretty hellacious wig), wants to use Katniss for propoganda purposes. She wants her to be the "Mockinjay," the symbol of rebellion against the capital. Reluctantly, Katniss agrees, on the condition that an effort be made to save her love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is alive and giving pro-Capitol TV interviews, as well as the others who were captured in the Quarter Quell game.
Part of being a leader involves acting in pro-rebellion TV advertisements. Since her in-studio performance sucks, Coin sends her out into combat with a camer crew in hopes of capturing a far more convincing performance from her. It's kind of amusing to know that the success of the rebellion depends heavily on whether its leader is a good actress or not, and some of the more amusing moments in the film involve Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman) trying (and failing) to get a good in-studio performance from Katniss.
Liam Hemsworth reprises his role as Gale, Katniss's childhood friend and second love interest. Perhaps the weakest element of The Hunger Games series has always been the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. It just seems a wee bit insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and thankfully, Mockingjay downplays the romantic triangle considerably. The focus is more on the escalating revolution, and that's exactly how it should be. After all, in a story set in a futuristic society where innocent people are getting slaughtered by the hundreds, the last thing one should be thinking about is Team Gale or Team Peeta.
Francis Lawrence once again returns as the director, and he's obviously the right man for the job. Directed with the passion of a fan of Suzanne Collins's trilogy of books, the movie is so well-made that it's a wonder they didn't hire him for the first movie as well. The special-effects are aces, the visual look is appropriately bleak, and there are scenes in the movie that resonate with surprising power (the best involves Katniss singing to her camera crew and Gale a song about a hangman). As dark as the movie gets, Lawrence still manages to sprinkle in bits of humor, including an amusing scene where Katniss rescues Prim's cat from the ruins of District 12.
The performances are strong across the board. Returning players Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks provide some welcome comic-relief, and Moore is quite compelling as the rebel President Coin. The heart of the movie (and the franchise, for that matter), is, of course, Jennifer Lawrence. In the hands of a lesser actress, The Hunger Games movies might not have worked as well as they do, but Lawrence is consistently riveting as Katniss. At the start of the movie, it appears as though she's suffering from PTSD, and Lawrence is quite convincing during those scenes. She holds your attention every second she's on screen, and keeps you invested in the proceedings even when the movie starts to lag.
While it is frustrating to have to wait another year to see the rest of the story, it's also understandable. There was a lot to Collins's book, and trying to cram it all into a single four-hour movie might have been more than even die-hard fans of the series could take. The filmmakers find the right stopping point (readers should have a good idea what said stopping point is; for those who haven't read the books, it leads to a brutally shocking scene), and they do a good job in at least developing this two-hour set-up in an engaging way. Mockingjay -- Part 1 has an engine to it, and we can feel it going to some exciting places. It's just a shame we have to wait another year to finally get there.
Rated PG-13 for LOTS of violence, disturbing images, and thematic material
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) :)
- Combustible Celluloid Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014), Peter Craig, Danny Stro
- Reelviews Movie Reviews
- THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1
- Dustin Putman's Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) - 2.5/4 Stars - Captivating as both drama and allegory, and may even one-up the previous two entries in terms of its force of will and emotional complexity.
My Thoughts on the series so far.
- Capsule Thoughts: The Hunger Games, Matha Marcy May Marlene, Underworld Awakening, Wrath of the Tita
The Hunger Games Director: Gary Ross Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Wes Bentley, Woodey Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Anadla...
- Capsule Thoughts: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Captain Phillips, Blackfish, The Hunt, You're Nex
Catching up on the movies I've seen.