‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ (2014) Movie Review

Great acting, wonderful characters and tense drama do their best, but ultimately The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is just that, one part of a full story

By: Mitch Burns

Photo Courtesty of Lionsgate
Photo Courtesty of Lionsgate

Directed By: Francis Lawrence

Starring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Paula Malcomson, and Donald Sutherland

Grade: C+

Thanks Harry Potter. We all love Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2, but I can’t help but look back on them with a little more disdain every time another beloved book is split into two parts. The studio system has found a way to dig into fans pockets a little deeper, all the while allowing fans to think they’re being done a great service.

The decision to turn Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games trilogy, was superfluous, and it negatively effects the film, greatly.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 begins with a rattled and shell-shocked Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss has been through hell, she’s lost many, and is unsure of what fate has befallen her friend/lover/ally Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss, her sister Prim (Willow Shields), and mother (Paula Malcomson), are all safe, and living in the once thought destroyed, district 13. Their home, District 12, has been reduced to rubble by the capitol after the events of the Quarter Quell.

District 13 is completely underground, the residents wear great jumpsuits, and are governed by president Coin (Julianne Moore). District 13 has become the headquarters for the rebellion against the capitol, and it’s a mighty force. Once Katniss comes on board as their “Mockingjay”, President Coin and District 13 begin rallying the other districts to rebel against the capital, and fight.

District 13 is full of familiar faces and new faces, all of whom are fighting to bring down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the capitol. Among the familiar faces are Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who has become an efficient member of District 13’s army, the now sober Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright).

Along with President Coin, other new faces in district 13 include Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Coin’s right hand man, and Katniss’ bodyguard. Cressida (Natalie Dormer), once a resident director of the capital, has escaped to join district 13 along with her assistant Messalla (Evan Ross), and camera crew Castor (Wes Chatham) and Pollux (Elden Henson).

Mockingjay – Part 1, has many missteps, I’m sure it was the studios decision to turn Mockingjay into a two part movie, but I’m not sure director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Danny Strong were entirely up to the task. The beginning of Mockingjay is almost completely terrible, we have no sense of time, it’s unclear where Catching Fire ended and Mockingjay begins. Old and new characters are introduced so haphazardly, it’s ambiguous as to who Katniss has been introduced too, who she’s seeing again for the first time since the events of Catching Fire, or who she thinks is alive or dead.

The creators of The Hunger games movies have done themselves quite the disservice in leaving major plot points out of previous movies, and it can be felt throughout Mockingjay – Part 1. It’s obvious to say that as an audience, we barely have a connection to District 12, the home of Katniss, Peeta, Gayle, Haymitch and many others. So when we learn that it’s been destroyed, and hundreds of people killed, the emotion barely resonates with us. Yes, it’s sad, but all scenes and mention of District 12 in past movies have been fleeting and forgettable, all emotion here falls completely flat. I have vivid memories of District 12 from the book, and could definitely feel the heartache the characters were feeling whilst reading, when they learned and saw the destruction of district 12

Other things jammed into this movie for the first time are what Avox’s are, even though they were supposed to play a big role in Catching Fire. Also, for all extensive purposes, we haven’t really heard anything about District 13 up until Mockingjay – Part 1, and even in Mockingjay it’s hard to get a sense of this place that Katniss and the others are now living in. For a series that did such a wonderful job at world-building in the first couple movies, it’s quite a disappointment that we don’t get a better feeling of district 13, and it’s past. Maybe we’ll get more of that in the next part, but this should be it’s own self-contained movie.

On that note though, District 13’s leader President Coin, is brought to life perfectly by Julianne Moore, the character jumps right off the page and onto the screen in front of us. Moore was the perfect choice to portray Coin’s icy persona, and her ferocity. Having the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman by her side in almost every scene doesn’t hurt either, as they play off each other nicely, this being their fourth movie together. I originally scoffed at such a legendary actor like Hoffman taking on what I felt to be an almost insignificant role in these movies, but his role in Mockingjay – Part 1 is actually quite large, and he plays it really well. I had almost forgotten we’ve lost Hoffman until the second title card after the film fades to black read “in memory of Phillip Seymour Hoffman”. Sad.

Katniss is a great character, but I felt her to be a tad overdramatic, whiny and almost unlike herself in Mockingjay, the book and the movie (Part 1). That is my own opinion, and who knows what state I would be in if I was going through what Katniss has. Mockingjay, or at least this first part, feels like a slight deviation from the character. The script asks A LOT of emotion from Lawrence, she gives it her all but I can’t help but feel Lawrence isn’t as connected to the role like she has been before. It doesn’t help that Lawrence is working alongside Liam Hemsworth much more in this movie, a bad actor playing an unlikeable character.

For me, it’s the side characters, and the actors who play them, that make Mockingjay worthwhile. Newcomers Mahershala Ali who plays Boggs and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer playing Cressida, are two new, bright, shiny stars among the cast, who had a lasting impression on me. As always, Elizabeth Banks acts her heart out as Effie Trinket, who’s role has been, very wisely, expanded from the book, and Woody Harrelson’s performance as the newly sober Haymitch, is his best performance of Haymitch yet. Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin and even Josh Hutcherson, all have smaller roles in this first part, but all three are memorable.  Even Hutcherson, who I haven’t really connected with thus far, really brings it.

I’ve given Mockingjay – Part 1 a lot of flack so far, and its deserving, but there are a lot of great scenes, I know I’ll like it a lot better when I can watch Part 1 and Part 2, together, as a whole movie. In between the scenes of additional nonsense and fluff, we are given (albeit few) great action sequences, some really tense moments of drama and great acting. Any scene with Julianne Moore as president Coin is spectacular, whether she’s interacting with Heavensbee or Katniss it’s all astonishing. The political subtext is smart, good enough that Thailand has already banned the movie due to some of it’s residents giving the three finger salute made popular by the movies.

When it comes down to it, I’m excited for Part 2, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 says it all in the title, it’s only part one, half of a full story, and it while it gets some things right, this trend needs to end.

Sorry Harry Potter… but I think I blame you for The Hobbit…

Thanks for Reading!

Find Mitch on Twitter @mitchydaily

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