The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) / Adventure-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Natalie Dormer, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (based on the adaptation by Suzanne Collins of her book)
Review published November 21, 2014
The Hunger Games films veer off into a different direction with Mockingjay, Part 1, as we no longer have a highly televised arena featuring combatants battling to the death so much as a battle for the people of Panem in terms of whether they want to stay with the oppressive regime led by the Capitol and President Snow (Sutherland, Horrible Bosses), or whether they're going to join the revolution and fight for a new way of life. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence, X-Men: Days of Future Past) continues to be the reluctant figurehead of the rebellion, who finally comes on board once she sees her own district has been nearly destroyed in Snow's vicious attacks.
That rebellion is led by President Alma Coin (Moore, Non-Stop), and masterminded behind the scenes from Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man), who has been mastering the art of propaganda to fan the flames of discontent among the citizens of Panem, and he sees Katniss as the lightning rod for spearheading a major uprising. They're all residing in a massive underground bunker in the long-thought-destroyed District 13, where their hopes are pinned to their 'Mockingjay', Katniss, to connect with the people, while Peeta (Hutcherson, Epic) appears on Capitol-based television in order to try to keep the people from taking up arms, though one suspects he's being manipulated or coerced.
Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants, I Am Legend) returns for the first of two installments adapting the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' massively popular young adult trilogy, and the main question is, does it need two films to tell the story? From the amount of material that could have been trimmed or excised altogether from this entry, I'd gather not, but when box office gold is there to be mined, there's definitely the almighty financial considerations that will win the day. Why not release another billion-dollar sequel while you have the chance?
The problem here is that there are some prolonged lulls in a franchise that, though flawed, had been successful at keeping the action at the forefront, even if it could have been tighter in terms of overall run time. It still will deliver the goods for fans, enough to make it a worthwhile viewing that just intrigues enough to see where the story ends up in Part 2, but it's not exactly the most scintillating blockbuster effort, and certainly isn't something that merits the electric excitement that surrounds its release.
The best thing one can say about this film is that it is elevated by another impressive performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who actually gives her character some nuance, despite the weak dialogue and silly confrontations drummed up by Suzanne Collins. One of her best moments in the film is when she actually has to act like a novice actress, trying to deliver a powerhouse line to motivate Panem in a propaganda commercial, but failing miserably to properly emote. It's a rare thing to ever see Lawrence unable to properly act, but even in this, she's phenomenal, and only makes the film that much more emotionally resonant when she does deliver the goods in the heat of the moment, and with authenticity.
The rest of the cast, full of some pretty great thespians, are fine enough, though they don't captivate given their short amount of screen time and the aforementioned terrible writing they're given to deliver. The worst part of the acting comes in the way extras are used, as nearly every instance of crowds in the film seem to treat them as if they are all of one mind, Greek chorus style. Collins' continued contrived use of character names is beyond absurd. Plutarch Heavensbee had already stretched credibility, but there is actually a duo of friends in the movie called Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins. What are the odds that two separate, non-related people in this phony world would end up meeting and becoming a team?
As you'd expect from a movie that's the first half of a book, there isn't really an ending to the movie, and it doesn't naturally end on much of a cliffhanger either, so if you walk out of the theater feeling tepid, this will likely be one of the major reasons. Given the final moment major reveal at the end of Catching Fire, it's definitely more downbeat than you might be hoping for when you see the credit roll. Despite a passable grade, given the stretched-out feel to the movie, with, for a film about a nationwide revolution, the feeling that it's a bit small in terms of scope, this is a clear example of why splitting the final book into two films, while financially smart, is quite a bad choice for fans, who deserve to feel fired up when going into the fourth and final film in the franchise. It's fine and faithful enough for fanatical franchise fans, but far from fostering fever-pitch ferocity for most other free-minded filmgoers.
©2014 Vince Leo