Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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In the last two years we have seen the story of Suzanne Collins’ feisty young heroine – Katniss Everdeen – evolve into a saga of increasingly dangerous magnitude. From the first film, when Katniss selflessly volunteered in her sister’s place for the eponymous Hunger Games, (which lead to her victory alongside fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark) to then being put into the games again with disastrous consequences in Catching Fire. And now, here we are, at the beginning of the end, as Katniss finally embraces the role of the Mockingjay that has been following her from the start.

The film starts where Catching Fire left off; scarred and confused from the revelations that her home – District 12 – has been destroyed by the Capitol and that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is missing after being abandoned in the arena by her rescuers, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in a fragile state. She is now situated in the underground bunkers of District 13, which are lead by the elusive President Coin (Julianne Moore) and are at the heart of the rebellion. After seeing the horrors of destruction that were thrust on her former home by the Capitol, Katniss agrees to become the ‘Mockingjay‘ – the face of a campaign to encourage the remaining districts of Panem to join in the uprising against the merciless President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meanwhile, it is discovered that Peeta is being detained in the Capitol and tortured into publicly defying the acts of the rebels on televised interviews; this is much to the heartbreak of Katniss, who since the last film, is beginning to realise her true feelings for her former game partner.

For followers of the trilogy, this latest film offers a grittier aesthetic than we have previously seen. Gone is the luscious greenery of Gary Ross’ first instalment and the glistening sun-kissed blues of the water-based Arena from the second. Instead, Mockingjay is grey upon grey, upon grey, as the dystopian world is confined to the effects of war and repression. Explosions and gunshots are abound and the loss of life is despairingly frequent, as Katniss travels through the districts igniting the flames of revolution.

As is now the annoyingly formulaic structure in young adult adaptations, this finale has been cut into two parts. Though this choice by the producers has certainly enabled director Francis Lawrence to interestingly explore the fluctuating culture of propaganda between the opposing sides, the film does sometimes drag a little in places. Particularly with regard to the cynically romantic relationship between Katniss and her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), which feels a little awkward and out of place in the midst of the action. Nevertheless, both readers and non-readers of the trilogy alike will be able to enjoy the film; devoted readers will be pleased by the faithful adaptation that includes the majority of important details (including a rather beautiful rendition of ‘The Hanging Tree’) whilst the script also caters for people new or less obsessive with the franchise, as it thoroughly explains the ins and outs of what is an exceptionally complicated plot.

The cast as expected are very good, but it is important to acknowledge that with the exception of Katniss and perhaps Presidents Coin and Snow, the appearances of other characters are pretty scarce and hard to focus on throughout the film. Finnick Odair, for example, played by Sam Claflin, weaves through the story only now and then, despite being an arguable centrepiece in Catching Fire. Other favoured characters like Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket (portrayed by Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks respectively) are similarly disjointed in their appearances, whilst Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason is only seen once. Hemsworth’s Gale is given a slightly meatier role this time around as a warrior in the rebellion, but has still not really shaken off the role of the “hunky other guy” in the love triangle. Hutcherson has also been given a new twist on his otherwise loveable portrayal of Peeta, which is both intriguing and upsetting to watch.

Lawrence returns to the character of Katniss with fervour, perfectly depicting the extreme emotions the teenage heroine is put through in her ordeals to save the ones she loves. Julianne Moore’s introduction to the franchise as Coin has also proven to be immensely agreeable, as she offers a beautifully understated portrayal of this alternative leader with elusive motives. Sutherland’s Snow, as always, remains to be delightfully repulsive in his performance as the villain of the piece. And of course, the film also features one of the last performances of the much-missed acting great, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who haunts every scene with his presence as Plutarch Heavensbee.

The ending of this penultimate segment of the franchise, which I shall not spoil in detail, leaves an ambiguous air to the fate of our heroes. Of course, if you’re desperate, the need to know what happens next can be fulfilled by reading the novel, but otherwise we will have to wait until next year – when the revolution truly begins in Mockingjay: Part 2.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is out in cinemas nationwide now.

This article was written for The Indiependent. It can be found in it’s original form here

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