It’s a new trend in movie making these days as a literary trilogy ends up having four parts to it, while it is an obvious cash grab, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1” sets up the beginning of the end and while it is admittedly light on action it at least allows us to appreciate some of the nuance and depth in that helped make these novels so insanely popular.
She has survived the punishing grind of the Hunger Games once more and after the events of the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13 with the rebels and remaining survivors of the games and the other districts that have been ravaged by attacks from President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and with the encouragement of those closest to her, she reluctantly agrees to be the face of the revolution to inspire the people to raise up and take back Panem.
While making the first half of a book into a movie isn’t always the best idea, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1” still works as it gives us the slow burn to the ultimate showdown and conclusion that will happen in part 2.
Director Francis Lawrence who came on board at the second installment “Catching Fire” is a solid hand in the director’s chair and always takes great care in shooting everything in as natural a tone as humanly possible, never distracting us with any sci-fi nonsense or silliness keeping it grounded in the conflict which is where the meat of the story subsists. The script doesn’t get bogged down in exposition, it is setting us up for the big showdown that people have wanted since the very first movie, and while we don’t necessarily get the payoff you can’t help but appreciate the natural build as the narrative doesn’t skip any beats in getting us where we need to go. It’s a very familiar formula that has been mined in the other literary adaptations of various movies but at least they knew well enough not deviate off the path too much.
Transitioning from reluctant combatant to the face of a revolution, Jennifer Lawrence gets to let Katniss out to breathe a little bit. Whereas we had seen flashes of her bold nature and defiance before here we get to see her turned all the way up to 11, as she rages against the machine in some of her bolder moments and in the quiet moments wonders how she can manage the pressure of it all. Woody Harrelson is his reliable self as her trusted friend and advisor Haymitch while Elizabeth Banks as Effie and the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Willow Shields all serve as confidants once again. Liam Hemsworth is still the rock for her to lean but he knows he has to put her feelings for him on the back burner, and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman is still ever present. Julianne Moore as President Coin gives a cold yet measured performance that keeps Katniss on edge and makes for some pretty interesting tension in the narrative and Donald Sutherland chews the scenery at every turn. Josh Hutcherson who is barely in this installment gets to take Peeta to some interesting places and he embraces the dark alley ways that his character needs to go down in order for this all to work.
While it won’t be the payoff that every one hoped for, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Pt 1.” is a more then adequate place holder while we wait for the fourth installment in the trilogy to hit screens next year.
3 out of 5 stars.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1” opens tonight in select theatres across the country and everywhere tomorrow.