Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (2014)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rated PG-13: Violence, peril
Running Time: 123 Minutes

After being rescued from the latest round of vicious Hunger Games, young rebel Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13, a city long-thought destroyed. Instead, the residents of 13 live in a massive, militarized underground bunker and are led by President Coin (Julianne Moore). Together with marketing whiz Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Coin plans to use Katniss as a rallying cry to get the other Districts to rise up against the villainous President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.

But Katniss is far from in shape enough to accomplish this task, suffering from post-traumatic stress after her ordeal in the Games. But when she discovers what Snow and the Capitol have done to her home District 12, and what he's currently doing to any district that dares show any sign of rebellion, she realizes she can't sit on the sidelines.

The opening shots of a dangerous civil war have been fired. On one side, the down-trodden people of the districts, rallying behind a young girl who increasingly finds herself out of her depth. On the other, the near-endless resources of President Snow, who will stop at nothing to put down this rebellion once and for all.

At this point, your'e either on board with these "Hunger Games" movies or you're not. This third go-round feels more confident and assured than either of the two previous entries, which is good because even though it also ends on a cliffhanger, it manages to avoid both of the major issues I had with the second film. This is also good because, frankly, the advertising campaign for this movie is crap.

There are a couple flaws with this movie, though. For one thing, the intriguing production design of the previous films is nearly gone. Only a few minutes of "Mockingjay" take place anywhere but in the downtrodden districts, meaning that the sci-fi vaudeville settings and costumes of the Capitol are barely glimpsed. What this also means is that most of the characters and settings that are in the film are drab and gray. One of the series' more lively characters, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) laments that she's entered "a world of jumpsuits," and it's a rather astute moment.

Secondly, the film actually lacks a centerpiece action sequence. This is intriguing because while "Mockingjay" is actually fairly lacking in action, it's still very entertaining and enthralling. There are several sequences that are very suspenseful, including when the Capitol attempts to bomb District 13, and the film's climax that involves a covert rescue operation. But where the second film's plot ground to a halt once it got into its Hunger Games climax, no such problem exists in "Mockingjay."

But once again, Jennifer Lawrence's emotionally fragile Katniss is the focus of the proceedings. Throughout the film, she'll be dealt several harsh blows, forcing her to take on more and more responsibility with the rebellion. Not the least of which is having to watch Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) make broadcasts under the gun from Snow, tortured into becoming a traitor to the cause. Meanwhile, Liam Hemsworth's Gale gets to play a larger role, now as a warrior for District 13's rebel army. He's still obviously in love with Katniss, but her focus is on rescuing Peeta. The film also introduces a gang of new characters in the form of Katniss' propaganda film team, led by Natalie Dormer's Cressida, but their roles are limited.

Julianne Moore's President Coin is a pretty reserved character, especially at first. She opens up a bit throughout the course of the film, but it's not a role with a lot of depth, either. On the other hand, just seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman on screen is sad. I found it hard to separate his character from himself, and my feelings that the film world has lost a fantastic performer. The film is also dedicated to him, with a title card at the end before the credits roll.

Despite some small flaws, "Mockingjay - Part 1" is both a fuller and more assured film than its predecessor. While it's a lot of setup for part two, it's more satisfying than "Catching Fire."

See Also
The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)