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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik
Screenplay by Danny Strong, Peter Craig
Based on Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, 
Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, 
Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, 
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, 
Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland


As Mockingjay Part 1 begins we’re back in District 13.

That’s right.  The place we thought was decimated by the Capital is in fact, a militarized state that has been preparing for an uprising since the rebellion which resulted in the creation of the Hunger Games seventy-five years ago.

Third installments should ascend in some way, and Mockingjay Part 1 is, overall, rather stagnant.

The film feels like it might reveal something exciting, something new, something, or at least you hope it might.

I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t and should have been condensed into forty minutes. It’s poor form to have an audience wait two hours for a taste of the intensity to come in Part 2.

Now we have to wait another year for the real action.

First, the positive; The director, Francis Lawrence, knows what he is doing. Mockingjay’s action scenes are great. The rebel acts of defiance are fast-paced and assembled well, although occasionally the soundtrack and choreography (a bit too organized) of the events make them corny instead of suspenseful. Still, they’re the most satisfying portions of the film, but they’re infrequent.

The camera work and execution of the film are awesome. The landscapes and various sets (whether CGI or real) are powerful, beautiful, and terrifying. So far we’ve seen District 12 and the Capitol, but in Mockingjay Lawrence guides us through the claustrophobic subterranean environment of District 13 where everything is cement, gloomy, and grey; it’s a survival bunker and training base, nothing more.

Contrasting the close-shots of District 13, are the long shots of flying hovercrafts, which glide over other districts, showing their incredible landscapes as well as each contributive resource (which collectively feed the Capitol’s wealth). Green mountain ranges, rich forests, and a gargantuan dam – all breathtaking sites, but home to oppression. These sections of the film are powerful.

It’s when people start talking that my engagement is negatively interrupted.

Onto the negative:  I understand Mockingjay needs to be appropriate for younger Young Adult viewers, but Danny Strong and Peter Craig could have made a far more resonating script, especially Craig, considering his writing for The Town.

The dialogue is rigid and formal, numbing even the most talented actors, which are plentiful in this film. Every time someone speaks, the film becomes a cheesy montage of non-motivating monologues and they are definitely not convincing enough to inspire citizen-soldiers for battle – it feels forced and disingenuous.

After everything the characters have been through I thought they’d depict more than an ever-teary Katniss.

Jennifer Lawrence can’t do much with her talent, neither can Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin is far too stiff – I find her delivery was the worst of the film. Moore comes off as constrained and indifferent instead of strict and intimidating. Her color-contacted eyes also diminish any domineering qualities her character might have had.

The redeeming stars: Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket. Their timing and mannerisms are always spot on and entertaining. But is this because they are the comic relief characters and it’s perhaps easier to write funny things than war speeches? Maybe so, but Harrelson and Banks are always genuine and delightful.

Other main characters such as Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) don’t have a huge presence, but they are good when onscreen. And Liam Hemsworth – still gorgeous, but still has zero impact.

As I said earlier, I have read The Hunger Games series and I loved it. But I can’t decide whether or not this puts me at an advantage or disadvantage when watching the movies. I have analyzed authorial intent and spent time dissecting the content and method of delivering the subject matter to a young audience. I therefore base my opinions on those criteria.

The thematic elements of the books are so great that I think the movies had so much more potential.

The Hunger Games illustrates the intensity of war without romanticizing it – an important concept for younger folks to grasp. As seen so far in the films, people die, and they die with swift brutality – that’s the horror of the series: death is an exciting form of entertainment for the Capitol, the bloodier the better. And attacks on innocent people within the districts aren’t drawn out; nobody gets to say goodbye.

Gunshots, bombs, and it’s done.

Doesn’t matter that the violence feels appropriate in Mockingjay, the script cripples the authenticity of the story’s message, thus diminishing the whole point of Collins’ books.

In closing, I want to give you a little hope – the intensity will come in Part 2.

But as President Snow often says, “hope is a dangerous thing.”

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