The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Posted: November 25, 2014 in Film reviews

Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Jennifer Lawrence.
Katniss Everdeen has survived the 75th Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell. Having destroyed the force field surrounding the arena rebel forces were able to swoop in and rescue Katniss, Finick and Beetee, whisking them away to an underground base that is all that remains of District 13, which was ‘supposedly’ destroyed by the Capitol. Katniss is angry that the other surviving victors, Peeta, Johanna and Annie, were left behind, and angry that she wasn’t made aware of the plot to rescue them all. She’s so angry that when the leader of District 13, President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the former Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) ask her to become the figurehead of the rebellion, the Mockingjay, she refuses.
After her sister, Prim suggests that they’re so desperate for Katniss to front their propaganda campaign that they’d accede to any demand she might want to make, Katniss says she’ll be the Mockingjay, but only if the rebels agree to rescue Peeta and the others at the earliest opportunity. Coin agrees and Katniss is asked to front a series of Propos (propaganda films). Katniss is stiff and comes across badly in the scripted, studio bound propos, and so it’s decided that the best way to use her is by sending her out into the combat areas where she can more easily be herself. She’s accompanied by a small unit including her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and former Capitol filmmaker Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and sent to District 8. It’s supposed to be a secure area, but when he discovers she’s there, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) orders in the bombers…
Can Katniss survive the attack on District 8 and will the rebellion succeed, and what will happen to the Capitol’s answer to the Mockinjay, their own propaganda voice…Peeta Mellark!

Of course if you’ve read the books you’ll know the answers to these questions, and if you haven’t read the books, well you won’t get all the answers until next year, thanks to the (probably predictable) decision to split the final book into two films. I can understand why they did it, both from a purely cynically financial perspective and also from a narrative one, but it does mean we’re left hanging. I have to say I agree with their choice of the stopping off point, a far more intimate moment than they could have chosen and I’m glad they didn’t end with a big battle.
What the split does mean is that the first part may be lacking in action for some people, although there are still a few set pieces so it isn’t all, as I’ve heard it described, ‘talking in corridors’.
Although I have to say I like the fact that this is less of an action film than a film about propaganda. Katniss might now be fighting for the good guys, but in many respects the rebels are using her as patently as the Capitol did. She’s still being dressed and promoted as a symbol, only now she’s a symbol of the rebellion rather than a symbol of the Capitol’s dominance over the districts. Throw in Peeta being used as the Capitol’s answer to the Mockingjay and the allegory goes further.
Whether you find this sophisticated or simplistic will depend on you, I happen to think it’s actually both, and given the world of Panem has always been painted with fairly broad brushstrokes this fits in with the general tone, and the film, like the books, manages to just about steer clear of hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer.
The films is lacking in the colour and spectacle of the first two, and even Effie Trinket, women of a thousand garish wigs, is required to wear drab overalls with the rest of District 13’s inhabitants. Again this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at times the sheer ostentatiousness of the Caption did make its inhabitants seem a smidgen too silly.
With a lack of action, and a drabber palate, the film has to fall back on its characters, and here, as before, it comes up trumps because it has a great cast. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress, and whilst at times she’s required to be a trifle melodramatic, for the most part she is superb, and it’s always possible to see the struggle going on behind her eyes. She might be way too old to be Katniss these days, but she’s still made the part her own, and without Lawrence these films wouldn’t be half as good.
She is ably supported by those around her. Donald Sutherland does evil so very well. President Snow might be fairly two dimensional (back to those broad brushstrokes again) but Sutherland still manages to imbue him with enough smiling menace that this hardly seems to matter. As his opposite number President Coin Julianne Moore acts as a neat counterbalance, managing to make Coin both sympathetic, and ever so slightly untrustworthy into the bargain.
It’s a shame that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us, he imbues Heavensbee with so much personality. Here is a man who swings from smug superiority to simpering cowardice within the space of a few scenes.
The nature of the second films means that some characters are short-changed, specifically Woody Harrelson (Though Haymitch still gets to steal a few scenes) and Josh Hutcherson who only gets a few scenes as Peeta. Others fare better. For the first time Liam Hemsworth gets to do more with Gale than just stand around looking a little moody, and whilst it is a departure from the book, having Effie be Katniss’ prep ‘team’ gives Elizabeth Banks ample opportunity to chew the scenery to the extent that you almost feel sorry for her. Thousands are dead but she’s lost her wigs damn it!
In the grand scheme of things this won’t be remembered as the best Hunger Games film. It is possible to make a film with a genuinely shocking cliff-hanger ending leading into a finale; see The Empire Strikes Back, although that was conceived as a middle film, it’s unlikely Suzanne Collins envisaged having her book torn in two whilst she was writing it, and it shows.
An enjoyable and diverting film without ever being outstanding, this is still probably better than the first Hunger Games film, and it lays a lot of the groundwork for what should be a cracker of a finale. And yes we have to wait, but let’s be honest, it’s only a year, after The Empire Strikes Back we had to wait three years for Jedi. People don’t know they’re born these days!
Good but not great.

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