Jennifer Lawrence is superbly engaging in the fun but flawed Mockingjay, Part 1
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1′ is enjoyable, even if it seems far too much of a “part one” and not enough its own movie.
There’s been an interesting trend lately with art describing itself. Sometimes a movie, TV show, or book is obvious about it; this is when you have a character that is clearly either an author insert or mouthpiece. Or perhaps it’s the opposite, a straw man character meant to suffer the attacks of unsubtle jabs to provide a suitable target for the artist’s rage or frustration. I don’t always think it’s necessarily a bad thing; it’s problematic when it becomes pretentious or dreary. The worst offense is to be obvious, but that isn’t so common. So when you have a movie about a young girl torn between wanting to be herself and being influenced into becoming a media sensation to push a message, it’s not the craziest idea to think that maybe there’s something there. Except of course, that the original material wasn’t about that — or was it?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is the third in a series of four Hunger Games movies, with the final Part 2 out next year. The final book, as we saw with Harry Potter and Twilight, is being split into two movies. I haven’t read Mockingjay, but Twilight didn’t have the material for one movie, let alone two, and I think Harry Potter would’ve worked better as few short British-style seasons of television instead of movies. The material for this movie is mostly paced well, with only a few obviously padded scenes. The story is simple, continuing on from the fallout of the last Hunger Games movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, of course) destroyed the gaming arena in the last movie, escaping from the clutches of the evil Capitol with fellow tributes Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), but also, incidentally, an accidental friend and ally in Elizabeth Banks’ bizarre Effie Trinket. And also the home of Katniss, District 12 has been brutally bombed, but her old friend/boyfriend/ex-boyfriend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) managed to survive with her mother and sister Primrose. Yes, the names aren’t much better this time either.
But they have still left the cowardly but lovable scamp Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and angry tribute Johanna (Jena Malone) behind to be held by the minions of the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland). So Katniss and company have been relocated to the secret hideout of the survivors of District 13, led by an austere President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), although former propagandist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles) and drunken Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are also helping out. That may seem like a lot, and it is, but the good thing about this series is that the characters have always been quite memorable, and the movie is no exception. Katniss finds herself in a difficult situation, seeing Peeta as a mouthpiece for the Capitol but not really wanting the attention herself. She’s also worried about her sister and people dying, etc.
This is one of the great things about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, because she acts as a girl who cannot act at all, yet when it is needed, she experiences strong and sincere emotions. She’s the draw here, at least for me. That’s not to say that the acting from the others aren’t good, nor is it that the characters don’t seem fleshed out. With the lone exception of Gale, who is boring and seems simply to be “handsome guy,” all main characters are interesting to watch.
Obviously Philip Seymour Hoffman is awesome, wringing laughs from little subtle touches and elevating lines a lesser performer couldn’t touch. Julianne Moore is obviously great, all hard lines and serious business, contrasted against the unstoppable force of personality that Elizabeth Banks pushes nearly off the screen. Donald Sutherland is effortlessly sinister here, but you knew that much. We also get a new character, Cressida, played by Natalie Dormer making a flat character instantly intriguing because she’s awesome. Even adorable little Josh Hutcherson won me over with his portrayals of pain and confusion.
Now, the story here is paper thin, having many scenes of dialogue that are mostly interesting with a few tense action scenes. The themes are still fascinating, the contrasting ideals of freedom and security, the line between fascism and safety, and the omnipresent political narrative through the lens of art and media. All that is interesting, without adding in parallels to the real Jennifer Lawrence’s struggles to stay likable despite how hard that is for anyone, especially women in Hollywood. The action is mostly shot carefully, but sometimes it goes cinematically and that is far more interesting. This is a sci-fi world after all, and sometimes it’s nice to see the scope of things beyond small rooms that could exist in a simple soundstage.
My overall feelings were positive, and I thought that the stopping part, the setup for the final part next year, worked well enough. Better than the cliffhanger from the second movie in any event, and that was just one book’s story. Perhaps there isn’t quite enough material for the 123 minute running time, but it’s almost enough. At this point, I’m more interested and curious about the next movie than desperately wondering for it, like say, I was with the Harry Potter books or even a few TV shows out there. That’s enough for me to recommend this movie, but I will really be curious how well it’ll work paired with the final movie. As for that, we shall have to wait and see.