FILM REVIEW; THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1

The revolution sure as hell will be televised.

It is interesting how this series of films adapted from Suzanne Collins has varied and evolved in tone from the first entry till now. We started with the straight up death matches in controlled arenas and then moved on to the very politically conscious Catching Fire. The current offering, Mocking Jay, also offers some degree of political awareness but to a different degree as Jennifer Lawrence returns to anchor this film with scant pickings which was to be expected from this stretched out adaptation of the final book in Collins’ series.

After the events of the last film where Katniss escaped from the hunger games arena, she is now in hiding with a group of rebels underneath the ruins of the old District 13. They are at epicenter of the revolution and they are looking to galvanize the masses to take the fight to the Capitol and their cruel leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who cuts an increasingly sinister and loathsome presence as the film progresses. Francis Lawrence serves up an almost dark and contemplative opening as Katniss is in a real somber place in these hard hitting moments. She is very fragile and filled with some guilt for having left Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind and she also finds to horrifying effect that her home district 12 has suffered for her inadvertent act of defiance.

That tone shifts considerably when we learn the rebels’ plan for Katniss.  President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) tells her about the riots and resistance her actions in the arena sparked and they want her to be the face of the revolution. She is coached to be the perfect symbol, the Mockingjay, primarily by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman; is this his final role?) with help from the first time sober Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) who somehow still manages to remain stylish and sassy in the underground penal-like facility. Katniss is also a given a backstage crew to make her the perfect symbol of the resistance crafting her into the Mockingjay everyone wants to love and be inspired by.

The film devotes considerable time to the media war between the Capitol and the resistance and indeed it is mostly about the propaganda both factions put out to get their message across. The resistance of course have Katniss in her stunning mockingjay outfit but then the Capitol have Peeta. He appears in a series of interviews conducted by Stanley Tucci’s Caesar. Peeta’s role here is mainly to quell the uprising and undermine the message coming from the rebels and Katniss. Watching from afar, it feels he is being coerced in one way or the other to speak for the Capitol and its tyrant whilst he also echoes the same sentiments on TV about Katniss and the resistance.

Whilst watching, I felt the director Lawrence was injecting some snippets of cynicism towards the media war and propaganda and how it played out. Most of us are rooting for Katniss and the rebel faction but there are some low key sneers towards the fact they are employing similar tactics with the only thing counting in the resistance’s favor being the fact that they are standing for something seemingly honorable. I feel it is probably just me but you do wonder if the tables were turned, does the Capitol call the soft spoken but steely President Coin and her comrades communist oppressors? They certainly look the part and I was getting a bit of a Che vibe from Pluratch and Coin – again just me.

This film may suffer from comparisons with its predecessor which may be unfair seeing as they are 2 different films with different tones but fans will be missing the pacing and intensity that comes with being trapped in arena where the mantra is kill or be killed. We still appreciate that there is a war going on and that its disturbing effects are widespread. At this point Jennifer Lawrence is totally committed and immersed in the character and is a formidable presence that holds this might-have-been weak film together. She continues with her incredible emotional nuance and we get some long overdue scenes of tenderness depicting her bond with her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) along with proper access to Liam Hemsworth, as Gale, for the first time in the series as the somewhat complex state of their relationship and the love triangle is addressed.

This film is ultimately a setup for the finale and a preamble to what we hope will be a fitting end to probably the finest action adventure series of films in recent times whilst simultaneously justifying a split of the final book. It allows us some moments of contemplation early amidst some quite harrowing shots and it proceeds to play quite intelligently with the idea of media and the politics of war. Mockingjay is ultimately about Katniss and she along with the strong supporting cast are engaging enough to keep us from longing for the adventure and thrills of the previous films.

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