The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 Directed by Francis Lawrence (PG-13)

December 2, 2014

While an argument could be made that creative breathing room is the reason behind these expanded sequels, it’s most likely colossal financial gain. Much like Twilight and Harry Potter, the studio wants to keep the Hunger Games cash machine powered for as long as possible, even willing to torpedo the momentum of 2013’s Catching Fire. Instead of providing economical storytelling and a nail-biting pace, Mockingjay—Part 1 slows the series to a dead stop.

 

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Mockingjay—Part 1 has the unenviable task of dramatizing contemplative staring.


Aware of President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) capacity for destruction and cruelty, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is brought into the underground realm of District 13 to become the face of a rebellion masterminded by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore).


At first resistant to exploit herself, the urgency of the fight proves impossible to ignore, with Snow using Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as bait, employing him in a propaganda mission meant to break Katniss’ spirit and shut down the violent unrest raging across Panem.


Fighting fire with fire, Katniss becomes the face of change, only to realize her relative powerlessness while managing day-to-day life in the concrete district. Cozying up to Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) for comfort, Katniss is left in a state of confusion as Snow increases his violence against the rebellion and gleefully displays a gradually deteriorating Peeta.


After a pair of movies that managed to work the essence of Suzanne Collins’ books into single features, Mockingjay—Part 1 has the unenviable task of dramatizing Katniss’ daily drudgery in an underground bunker. After the nimble Catching Fire, it’s an adjustment to go from boiling anger to contemplative staring.


The screenplay is soaked in expository dialogue and almost the entire effort is devoted to the next film, leaving Mockingjay—Part 1 hollow, emotionally constipated, and unexpectedly sluggish.


Lawrence’s work as Katniss holds the series together with her exceptional performance. Director Francis Lawrence (returning from Catching Fire) captures the bigness of the rebellion, with sequences devoted to district residents toppling armed Capitol guards.


Casualties are plenty, extending Katniss’ awareness of Snow’s brutality as she tours a decimated District 12, finally coming to terms with her need to join the fight. However, such determination isn’t attached to weaponry, but to propaganda. Both sides engage in a contest of misinformation, trading videos and blocking signals to help win a war of cooked imagery.


Provocative ideas of manipulation are explored in the script, but Mockingjay—Part 1 is most interested in Katniss’ love for Gale and Peeta, making this enormous world feel small again. Thousands of innocents are gunned down and doomsday looms, but is Peeta okay?


Mockingjay—Part 1 doesn’t have an ending, but there’s no real cliffhanger either. It drifts away on a note of fatigue that I hope doesn’t carry to the next picture.

 

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