Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt 1The movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 continues the series, taking it into darker, more adult territory. Fans of the books will not be disappointed. The third film sticks quite close to the events of the Suzanne Collins novel's first half, though the movie is slightly less bloody. Directed by Catching Fire's Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), Mockingjay is both faithful to the source and also timely commentary on the use of media to influence a revolution.

Peter Craig and Danny Strong penned the screenplay, which picks up immediately after the events in Catching Fire. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been evacuated to the lost District 13, hidden in a vast complex of underground bunkers. As the clampdown by the government of evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) on the rebelling districts continues, her best option to contribute to the revolution is to assume the role for which she has unwittingly been groomed and become the Mockingjay, an inspiration and example to the repressed peoples of Panem broadcast in propaganda videos over hijacked airwaves to all the districts. At the same time, her love and fellow Hunger Games champion Peeta is trapped in the Capital, used as an opposing figure begging for an end to violence in official broadcasts.

Until now, the series has always been told first-person from Katniss' perspective. For the first time here, we see just a few scenes with other characters: President Snow and his staff, District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Game Master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that set up the film as more of a direct conflict between Katniss and Snow. "Moves and counter-moves," muses Snow at one point, to emphasize that this is a chess match between the two, himself in white and Katniss in black. Caught up in the conflict between them, the districts are all in gray, and the grayest among them is 13.

The strict military environment in District 13 requires a purpose for everyone, efficient and disciplined. It's an environment as foreign to Katniss in its stark reserve as was the Capital with its wild excesses. Only out in the open, during visits to the surface does the Mockingjay get a chance to sing, literally. In one breathtaking scene, Lawrence performs the "Hanging Tree" song from the book. That such scenes maintain and even amplify the power they hold in the novel is a testament to Suzanne Collins' work but also to the incredible performances of Jennifer Lawrence, Sutherland, Hoffman and the rest of the cast -- especially Jeffrey Wright, returning as Beetee, the former Hunger Games champion and scientist who now regrets the weapons he once built for the Capital as he fights to circumvent his own protections.

I only disliked the distraction brought on by editing that repeatedly teased the audience as potential cliffhanger scenes would fade to black, only to continue after a pause just barely long enough to make one realize their breath was held. The relief at the biggest of these was enough to prompt a chuckle from half of the crowd. There is no question that Mockingjay - Part 1 splits the book awkwardly enough to make some people claim it feels unfinished. The movie too closely follows source material that was not written with such a split in mind. Still, this is an epic, moving film with a powerful story buoyed by more powerful performances.