UK Release Date: 20th November 2014
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Synopsis: Rescued from the Hunger Games arena, Katniss Everdeen is turned into a propaganda figurehead for the rebellion against the Capitol.
In a world without Harry Potter and Twilight, the search for a new blockbuster young adult franchise led the film universe to Suzanne Collins’ excellent dystopian trilogy – The Hunger Games. The subsequent franchise made a star of Jennifer Lawrence and took a dominant position in the YA cinematic canon. With penultimate franchise entry Mockingjay – Part 1, the franchise is leaving the arena behind for a murky tale of politics and propaganda.
Katniss (Lawrence) is now living in District 13, under the rule of President Coin (Julianne Moore), following her rescue from the Hunger Games arena by gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). She is utilised by the rebels, alongside Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) in propaganda videos, known as “propos”. Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being held captive by the Capitol as a propaganda tool of their own.
Above all else, Mockingjay – Part 1 deserves credit for the sheer size of its balls. It follows the action blowouts of the last two movies with a film that is largely about people talking in rooms. Director Francis Lawrence does a great job of ensuring that the entertainment quota rises, even as the level of high-octane action diminishes. The violence and brutality of the Hunger Games is left behind as the rebels of District 13 stick Katniss Everdeen in front of a camera and help her become the “Mockingjay”.
| "It is the things we love most that destroy us."
Jennifer Lawrence, as we have come to expect, really rises to the challenge of Mockingjay – Part 1. Here, she must add yet more layers to Katniss as she is pulled this way and that by District 13. She is delightfully awkward delivering promo scripts, looking every inch a square peg in a round hole, but really comes into her own during a fierce rallying speech in the dusty remnants of a Capitol air strike target. She even gets to flex her singing muscles, with an astonishingly poignant motivational song.
The step-up taken by Lawrence is echoed by the supporting cast. Julianne Moore is the best of the new additions, conveying the icy and manipulative side of President Coin to great effect. Her character provides a cold, calculated backroom counterbalance to Katniss’ passion out in the field. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman also shines, getting many of the script’s funniest lines alongside fellow returning star Woody Harrelson.
For many, the decision to split the Mockingjay novel into two films was met with scepticism and cynicism. However, Mockingjay – Part 1 certainly never feels like it’s padding for time. The narrative breathing space is used to imbue the universe and the characters with real emotional depth. There’s also the benefit on the big screen of being able to explore the chaos and dissent of the other districts, outside of Katniss’ viewpoint.
| "Do you see that ? Fire is catching. If we burn, you burn with us!"
Francis Lawrence continues to prove that he deserves his position at the helm of this franchise with his stellar work in Mockingjay – Part 1. He takes the potentially stagey set pieces and gives them a real visual flair that ensures there’s always plenty to look at in any given scene. He remains sure-footed in the action sequences, which feel very special when they do arrive with a blast.
There is, however, one particularly large misstep in which a crucial slice of exposition courtesy of a Sam Claflin propo is juxtaposed with a fiery rescue mission. Too much time is spent on the generic Call of Duty style skirmishing, when the simplicity of the propo video is far more interesting, entertaining and important to understanding the film.
Despite this particular problem, Mockingjay – Part 1 is perhaps the most confident and interesting of the Hunger Games films. This franchise finale is about to catch fire.
Pop or Poop?
The first instalment of Mockingjay does a great job of avoiding the standard ‘Part 1’ pitfalls. It’s a very impressive film in its own right, as well as ensuring that all of the pieces are in place for the climax.
There’s a huge step up from all of the performers, with acting icons like Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman butting heads on an even keel with surging young talent Jennifer Lawrence and Sam Claflin.
This time next year, the Hunger Games franchise will be at an end. We’ll all be sad to see it go.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.