The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 English Movie ReviewFeature Film | Action, Adventure, Drama
Every film that gets made, the people behind it try to make the best movie that they possibly can. Except when it comes to the penultimate/"Part 1" of the final chapter of a film series. Such films are basically made to act as props, to set up the events of the final chapter. There's too much concern about what every single scenario in the current film would mean for the next one, that in the process the quality of the film takes a beating.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is straddled with the same handicap of being a prop. Add to that the fact that Catching Fire was a great film in all respects, and a drop in quality for Mockingjay Part 1 was pretty much guaranteed. But the film manages to defy our moderate expectations to emerge as a watchable film.
The events of the film take place after a short interval from the ending of Catching Fire. District 12 has been reduced to rubbles. Katniss and her cohorts are living with the other rebels as fugitives in District 13. Katniss agrees to become the face of the revolution as The Mockingjay, but not before she puts everyone through her guy-troubles.
This is the first film without any Hunger Games, which helps in differentiating it from what came before it. Instead, the entire film focuses on the stoking of the revolution, the rebellion against the Capitol and its oppression, the molding of Katniss into a hero and symbol of hope in the eyes of the residents of all the remaining 11 districts.
While it is an interesting approach, there are times when the film starts to look like an elaborate PR exercise for Katniss. After an entire hospital full of innocent civilians is blown up by the Capitol, Katniss is asked to look into the camera and tell the people what she's feeling. It's in these moments that the film is at its weakest, appearing shallow and straining too hard to find genuine emotion, ending up looking more manipulative than touching.
It is also an overlong, meandering film, although its running time of 2 hours easily makes it the shortest film in the franchise so far. The problem lies in the fact that the creative team behind the film tried to broaden the base, to give as many plot possibilities for the next film as possible. In turn, they didn't have much of a story to tell in the present, instead putting the strained love triangle between Katniss-Peeta-Gale at the front and center.
While the film makes for a frustrating watch at times, it makes for an equally fascinating one at others. The sequences involving the rebellion in the districts are well conceived. The film manages to ratchet up enough tension periodically to make you sit up in your seats. Aided by a bigger budget, the explosions in the film are not only bigger and more in number, but appear more authentic than previous films.
One aspect in which Mockingjay Part 1 does better than its predecessors is that its politics is more central and much more urgent. The brutality and scale of the atrocities against civilians is greater, which inherently raises the stakes. Having an opposing camp to the Capitol makes for much more interesting moves and countermoves. It's in these sequences that the beating heart of the film lies. It's these portions of the film that stir something within you, that make you root for the rebels.
The Hunger Games films haven't really made for the best performances of Jennifer Lawrence's career, and that trends continues. An otherwise fantastic actress, her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, the inept hero for whom more capable people are willing to lay down their lives (much like Harry Potter and Frodo), has always been a bit hit and miss. She looks suitably vulnerable and overwhelmed when needed, but she looks unsuitably overwhelmed even in portions where she should appear ferocious. She manages to maintain the innocence of her character, but as the very heart of the uprising, she appears out of her depth sometimes.
Julianne Moore, as the the new president of District 13, is the epitome of calm and composure, all the while maintaining her commanding screen presence. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose last appearance in a film would be in Mockingjay Part 2, is as charming as ever as the brains behind the uprising. Liam Hemsworth gets a meatier role this time and manages to make nothing out of it. Josh Hutcherson gets a skinnier role this time and still manages to make the most of it. Donald Sutherland as President Snow is as creepy and menacing as ever. Other actors, including Natalie Dormer as a "director", are more than efficient in their parts.
Director Francis Lawrence, who took The Hunger Games franchise to much more commanding heights (qualitatively) with Catching Fire, returns as the director for the final two movies. You can tell that he is a skillful man, making the best use of the constraints that come with making a penultimate film, and ensures that there isn't a fall from grace for the franchise. He handles his actors well, and gives characters who aren't Katniss more importance this time around. Instead of aiming for the stars, he manages to temper the audience's expectations and ends the film at a cliffhanger that would leave you excited for the final film coming next year. A special mention of the cinematography by Jo Willems, who makes the nation of Panem look more gorgeous than ever before.
The decision to convert the already thinly-plotted final book in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy into two movies still remains highly debatable, but Mockingjay Part 1 manages to add more to the arguments in its favor than against it. The film manages to not be the disaster that it could've been, instead serving as an effective means of raising the curiosity and excitement levels for the final chapter. Go into the theaters with reasonable expectations, and you'll come out thinking of the film more as an additional treat than a cash-grab ploy by the producers.