Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review

(dir. Francis Lawrence)


“Fire is catching... If we burn, you burn with us!”

    In the third installment of The Hunger Games series, Katniss finds herself the symbol of the resistance movement started by District 13. Gone are the games, replaced by a civil war that places the violence and themes of the first two films on a much larger stage. While the splitting of Suzanne Collins’ novel into two films isn’t necessary, and ultimately hampers the story’s momentum, Mockingjay is filled with enough strong character moments and events to make the film a crucial entry.

    Even more so than the previous installments, Mockingjay really is Katniss’ film. Free from the adversaries that the games offered, and many of the supporting characters in reduced roles, the film allows the audience to get inside Katniss’ head and examine her choices (or lack of choices). The film really cements the fact that Katniss is a tool being used to ignite revolution, a distinction that makes her different from other heroes who are entirely agents of their own free will. Where the film’s themes really come across are not in the action scenes, but in the quieter moments and the discussions of politics and propaganda. Jennifer Lawrence seems entirely comfortable in the role, offering enough of herself to Katniss to make the character more likeable than the book. Her performance is aided by strong performances from Julianne Moore, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who even in a minor role reminds us why he was so celebrated a talent. Mockingjay is a film that is truly elevated by the power of its performances, which make the whole Part I detail far less damning.

    Francis Lawrence has a confident handle on the material and a cinematic eye that allows for some great moments of tension in the last half hour, as well as a few well-crafted scenes focusing on the revolutions taking place in other districts. Mockingjay, washed in grays and browns has the look of a war film. The lack of colorful capital costumes, holograms, and genetically engineered enemies ground the film. In some ways, Lawrence seems to emulate The Deathly Hallows Part I, in his focus on relationships and the cost of war. But unlike that film, some of Mockingjay’s moments, like the will they/won’t they relationship between Katniss and Gale, seemed like forced fan service, reminders that the story’s strengths are still pinned down to a willingness to fit inside the young adult box. While the flaws of the book remain the flaws of the film, Mockingjay’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.

    While it's light on action, Mockingjay still has a number of pivotal moments. Fans of the book will likely be pleased and fans of the films will find this new entry consistent with their expectations. In the end, Mockingjay achieves what all installments hope to do from an artistic standpoint, it has impact. The emotional fallout of this film offers enough to keep you invested until next year’s finale.

Grade: B+

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