I was one of the people greatly impressed by Francis Lawrence’s take on ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise last year with the excellently exciting ‘Catching Fire’. If anyone could turn what is widely considered Suzanne Collins’ weakest book of the trilogy, ‘Mockingjay’, into another blockbuster gem it was Lawrence. And with ‘Part 1’ he has achieved just that.
While not quite scaling the heights of the second film, it is still leagues ahead of the novel it is based on in one key aspect above all else: the way it portrays its characters.
The conflict of the plot has ballooned into nation-wide proportions in this instalment; instead of the arena, the attention is focused on the civil war between the Capitol and the Districts of Panem. Despite this, Katniss is still at the heart of the story and the emotional fallout she experiences as she deals with the events of the past two films and this one are demonstrated well here.
On the other hand, her character development is slightly ‘two steps forward, one step back’ as she struggles to compose herself in situations she would have met with bravery in ‘The Hunger Games’. While it may seem like a characterisation flaw, it is actually one of the most realistic reactions from a protagonist in any film this year. How would you react in Katniss’ position?
Jennifer Lawrence is superb as always too but the entire ensemble can hardly be left out of the praise. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta surpasses his work in the first two films by miles with a third of the screen time. Liam Hemsworth as Gale is more subtle but gets to flex his acting muscle a little more this time around. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he is in while Donald Sutherland is the most terrifying President Snow we’ve seen yet. We don’t see much of the supporting characters in ‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ though. It really does focus on Katniss and her relationship with the civil war at large.
And speaking of the civil war, this film depicts War as brutal, traumatic and inhumane, just as one imagines it would be but doesn’t very often see. This elevates the film to a new level. There is no handholding. The themes and imagery of ‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ exceed the brutality of everything that came before. There is a lot of meaning to be drawn from this movie that couldn’t possibly be explored in this short review but at its core, it’s about the line between humanity and inhumanity and the extent to which people will break their own moral codes, even risk their own lives, for a greater cause, good or evil. I could go on about the score and the cinematography but they are just as fitting as in ‘Catching Fire’.
The one gripe that I have with ‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ is hinted by its name. This didn’t need to be split into two parts as ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ did. It would have been trimmable to a single film even if a slightly longer one. While Francis Lawrence’s film does a fantastic job compensating for the slow nature of the novel’s first half by adding extra scenes of the rebellion, it still feels like an incomplete film and only once ‘Part 2’ is released next year will we see the full film for what it should be. This is a minor issue though and ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ is still an excellent entry to a franchise that manages to maintain a consistent level of quality throughout.
READ: Daniel’s Review