2014 Film Reviews

Review: Francis Lawrence’s ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’


A brief moment of clarity for Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen (and the movie theatre audience): midway through The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, the new rebellion leader comes to a disturbing realization after teasing her sister’s cat. Unfortunately, rather than letting the action tell the story, Katniss must first explain why the moment was significant. The dialogue was surely appreciated by some, but the loyal followers of the franchise deserve better.

While The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was bigger and better than the original, Mockingjay goes underground, literally and figuratively, into the darkness. Katniss must first overcome the shock of another horrific experience, although she doesn’t have enough time to process the events. She’s been tabbed as the “Mockingjay” and the rebellion led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) must be planned swiftly. Although Katniss is afforded several moments to gently weep and come to grips with the demolishment of District 12, the production of numerous propaganda videos (“propos”) must be presented to the public to gain support. In a rather hilarious sequence, Alma and Plutarch discover that Ms. Everdeen may be the worst actress around, and as a result, she is given free reign to speak honestly while navigating the destruction.

Back at the Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has exploited the psychological devastation of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and utilizes him as the new face of Capitol TV. And so, Mockingjay slowly transforms from a dark, psychological thriller into a “Save Peeta” love story. If the audience can’t tell that President Snow has brainwashed the young man, the appearance of dark rings beneath his eyes convey the obvious. It’s yet another unnecessary plot device.

All in all, Mockingjay offers plenty to enjoy as the audience waits for the Peeta scenario to unfold. Jennifer Lawrence is simply marvelous again and delivers a surprisingly beautiful vocal performance that shows what a well-rounded actress she truly is. Just as the pitch-perfect voice of Anne Hathaway makes for great musical numbers, Lawrence’s raspy tone is perfect for a Young Adult rebellion leader. Perhaps the Academy Award winner may never sing again on camera, but we know that she has the goods. What I’m saying is that we need to see Lawrence team up with Kelly Reichardt for New Wave Western (that’s what I’m calling it).

Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne continues to bore, but Natalie Dormer kills with her partially shaved head and raw sex appeal as Cressida. She seems to have absorbed all the personality that Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) once had and saves Mockingjay from becoming a two-hour J-Law show. Of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman appears in his last role and delivers a quietly hilarious performance as the Hype Man for Katniss.

Technically, Francis Lawrence proves capable of visually guiding the franchise to the final chapter and undoubtedly knows how to frame his star. He seems most efficient when working with less, whether it’s Katniss alone in a hospital room or two characters navigating the woods. Although the sound design was both frightening and wonderful, the Hunger Games franchise is at its best when Katniss speaks through her actions — not by explaining how a cat affected her decision-making.

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