Review of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was rescued by the budding rebellion and is now in the underground stronghold of District 13 after the events of the 75th Hunger Games.  Recovering from her injuries, Katniss can’t sleep without waking up screaming from nightmares.  Her actions in the arena, along with the loss of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), have nearly broken her spirit.  Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use Katniss as the face of the revolution.  Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has plans for short propaganda films showing Katniss’ anger at the Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland).  Katniss is reluctant until she is taken out to the remains of District 12 which the government destroyed after the last Games.  Back at the rebel base, Katniss sees Peeta being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) on TV.  Peeta encourages the rebels to give up and makes a direct appeal to Katniss to stop fighting.  Peeta’s appearance makes him an enemy to the District 13 residents and they, along with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), loudly call him a traitor and a coward.  Katniss believes Peeta is being forced to say those things and doesn’t really believe them.  Katniss goes to President Coin and agrees to perform her role as The Mockingjay but only under certain conditions:  First, Peeta and the other tributes captured by the government must be rescued as soon as possible.  Second, they will all receive pardons and immunity for anything they’ve done against the rebellion.  Coin agrees and the rebirth of The Mockingjay begins with a costume designed by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) before his murder by the government.  Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is brought in to help style her final look and a team of camera people and a director are assigned to record Katniss anytime she’s out in the field.  During a visit by Katniss and others to a hospital in District 8, government fighter jets attack killing all the sick and injured.  Katniss and Gale are able to take down the jets using specially designed exploding arrows created by Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright).  The film crew records Katniss emotional remarks after the attack and creates a rousing film that encourages attacks in other districts.  The war is not just being fought with bullets and bombs but with appeals to the desire for freedom or the preference to keep things as they are.

“The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” is a rather talky film with only sporadic action.  Unlike the two previous films there’s no Hunger Games to provide a much needed break from the pining for missing friends and the political speechifying.  It at times feels a little slow; but it does a good job of setting up what should be an exciting final movie of the franchise.  Much like the final “Harry Potter” films that split the last book into two movies and made the first film exposition heavy, “The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” has set the table for the final conflict.

The cast is great in their third go-round.  Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss’ pain and emotional suffering in a visceral way.  She manages to make the audience feel her anger and her helplessness.  While we don’t see much of Peeta in this film, Josh Hutcherson is able to do a great deal with very little screen time.  You can see the turmoil in his eyes as he tells Katniss to stop fighting.  As the film goes along, Peeta’s image deteriorates reflecting his ongoing struggle.  By the end of the film, Peeta is nearly unrecognizable.  Liam Hemsworth isn’t given much to do other than look serious or pained.  Gale sees he’s losing Katniss to Peeta, saying at one point she only kisses him when he’s in pain.  It’s Gale’s way of saying goodbye to the idea of them being a couple.  All the supporting characters, and there’s a ton, give good performances with the standout being Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.  She considers herself to be a political prisoner even though she can leave her room anytime she wants.  While she is without her trademark wigs and makeup, Effie is still the star of any room she enters.  Her disgust with the clothes and accommodations in District 13’s underground headquarters is frequently expressed, adding a much needed bit of levity to a rather dark film.  Seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final performances tinges the movie with an undercurrent of sadness and the film is dedicated to Hoffman in the closing credits.  Hoffman’s Heavensbee is a consummate salesman who always has what he believes is the answer to everything; but, as we see in both “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” he’s frequently wrong.  That bravado falls away during an attack and he has no quick answers.  While it may not be the greatest performance in his storied career, it doesn’t tarnish his legacy.

The movie’s greatest weakness is how much dialog is stuffed into a two hour running time.  Whether it is a discussion of strategy, a condemnation of President Snow or a chat between Caesar and Peeta, “The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” lets the actors do most of the heavy lifting and leaves much of the action in the first two films.  That’s not to say the movie is dull as it always feels like it’s going somewhere but many times that sense of momentum is never paid off with anything.  Much like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the splitting of the final Hunger Games book into two films feels like a cynical money grab.  The filmmakers had been able to turn the first two books in single films and all three books are approximately the same length.  I understand the desire to milk a cash cow for all it’s worth; but this feels like a blatant attempt to squeeze a few more dollars out of fans.  It’s too bad we have no other choice but to support their greed if we want to see how everything turns out.

“The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, intense sequences of violence, intense sequences of action and thematic material.  We see dead bodies lined up in a corridor of a makeshift hospital with the sound of flies buzzing.  There are brief shots of people with open wounds.  We see an attack by fighter jets as they bomb a hospital and there are several explosions.  We see the skeletons of people killed by firebombing.  There is a brutal attack near the end of the film with a man strangling a woman to unconsciousness.  There is not foul language.

It has taken a little while for me to warm up to “The Hunger Games” movies.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film and that was mostly because the entire premise of the privileged few subjugating and using the lower classes killing each other as entertainment rubbed me the wrong way.  I hate bullies in all their forms and “The Hunger Games” books and movies are mostly the story of a powerful bully (President Snow) exercising his sadistic control over the people in the districts of Panem.  The Capital uses the resources of the districts to live a lavish lifestyle while the workers get nothing but abuse.  After watching the second film in the series “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” my opinion began to change as there were signs of the budding rebellion that comes to fruition in this third movie.  While I would have enjoyed a bit more action or if the filmmakers had just made one movie out of the final book, “The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” is still an interesting film that sets up what should be an action-packed finale.

“The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 1” gets four stars out of five.

Happy Thanksgiving!  This week isn’t exactly stuffed with new movies but I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Horrible Bosses 2—After a shady investor steals their new company, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) conspire to kidnap the man’s adult son and ransom him to regain control.

The Penguins of Madagascar—Super spy teams aren’t born…they’re hatched. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private now must join forces with the North Wind to stop the cunning villain Dr. Octavius Brine from taking over the world.

The Theory of Everything—The extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde.

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