When I finished reading Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, I wished that there had been a fourth book. The last installment of The Hunger Games Trilogy packed in so much character development and action that I felt shell-shocked when it was all over. So, although I normally think that splitting the last book of a trilogy into two movies is a money-making scheme, I thought the decision made a lot of sense for Mockingjay. For part one, the result is a film that may be light on action, but fills the time with intense character work and political undertones that set the stage for an outstanding conclusion.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I picks up after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) was rescued out of the Quarter Quell at the end of Catching Fire. Although she is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress she is also expected to serve as the symbolic leader of a revolution against the Capital. In District 13, the supposedly destroyed, but actually thriving district where Katniss has been taken, President Coin (Julianne Moore), Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are working to help Katniss make propaganda ads to incite a revolution against the Capital. Meanwhile, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) retaliates with brutal force and is holding Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other tributes hostage to mess with Katniss’s already fragile composure.
Mockingjay Part I definitely has less action than the first two films, but I think that in the place of fight sequences it delves into the more subtle layers of the political commentary that make the last book so interesting. Mockingjay Part I gives space for the characters to develop in complicated ways, which lays the groundwork for some surprising and devastating decisions in Part II.
Given the character driven nature of the film, it is no surprise that the best part is the performances. I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t think anyone has a meltdown like Jennifer Lawrence. The film provides ample opportunity for her emotionally charged performances, and, as always, Lawrence delivers. As President Coin, Julianne Moore was powerful, while also subtly gesturing toward the weaknesses of the character. I also appreciated that the books and movies give audiences not only a young, complicated woman as the symbolic leader of the revolution, but also a strong, complicated woman as president of the new government. Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman shared most of their scenes together and they have wonderful chemistry as scene partners. I could really feel the strained mutual respect and the tension between their characters. Josh Hutcherson isn’t in the movie much, but the scenes that he is in are intense and Hutcherson does a great job of depicting a slow decline with nuance. Overall, the ensemble cast is outstanding too.
I also really enjoyed the way that the production of propaganda was depicted. The first propo that they make is a flop unsuitable for broadcast, but it looks an awful lot like a movie trailer for the Hunger Games. The later propos are shot in a way that seems to mirror reality TV, highlighting the way that even when they decide to let Katniss be herself, there is still a lot of coaching and prompting in the mix.
In the end, I think that Mockingjay Part I is an excellent half of a film, but in terms of standing on its own, it has some serious flaws. A lot of what I liked best about the film resonated with me because I know what is coming in Part II. I ultimately think that splitting Mockingjay into two parts was a good decision, because it gives the space for the setup that this film provided. I also think, though, that it was a decision between making one film that tried to do too much and two films that are good but unsatisfying on their own. I rate Mockingjay Part I 3.5/5 stars.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I was directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. It runs 123 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.
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