Philip Seymour Hoffman
The odds will certainly be in this movie’s favor at the box office this weekend.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is the first in a two-part finale for the whole book- based movie series. The film picks up not long after the events of the previous installment, “Catching Fire” with Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, taken to the mysterious District 13.
District 13 is the home of the rebellion against the oppressive rule of the Capitol of Panem. Upon her arrival, Katniss meets the President of District 13, Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore. Katniss soon learns that the District wants her to be the face and symbol of the rebellion.
While reluctant, Katniss agrees to help after seeing the devastation that the Capitol and its leader President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, have caused. The only problem for Katniss is that the other member of District 12 who fought with her in the Hunger Games, Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson, is still in the Capitol.
There are many series lately that have taken the route of splitting up its finale into two parts. The first that comes to mind is the last two “Harry Potter” films. While some may consider it just an attempt to split up an adaption to earn more box office dollars, I think it was a wise choice with “Mockingjay.”
There was so much going on in this first movie, and it didn’t appear to drag or feel stretched out at all. There was a lot of ground to cover and having to squeeze all of this plus a whole second half into one film would have been excessive.
One thing that this movie is not is an action fest. While there are combative moments, this film is more about feeding the flames of war and for the most part is the calm before the storm, and it really works.
The whole picture has a heavy, depressing atmosphere which lets the audience know that the final battle won’t be pretty. It’s a fantastic set up for the second “Mockingjay” movie.
That’s not to say that this movie was nothing but a preview for the fourth film. There are still many plot threads that get developed and finished here. From rebellions starting across all of the districts to relationships being further developed.
The main arc of the story, though, is Katniss, who once again is played very well by Lawrence. In this story, Katniss learns that her home district has been leveled by Capitol bombings, she learns that she is the hope of the whole rebellion and she begins to understand just how horrific a war can be.
Lawrence nails all of that by showing a lot of emotion on screen. The entire movie Katniss has a feeling of despair, as if the entire weight of the world is on her shoulders, and it comes to life through Lawrence’s portrayal.
The veteran actors of the film also help carry everything along smoothly. Sutherland is once again chilling as President Snow and Woody Harrelson nearly steals every scene he’s in as Katniss’ mentor Haymitch.
Also solid were newcomers to the film — Moore as the charismatic leader of the rebellion and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays a prominent figure in District 13.
Hutcherson has also come a long way from the first “Hunger Games,” having improved in every film. In “Mockingjay,” Peeta is being used as propaganda for the Capitol, and Hutcherson does a great job making his scenes feel real.
The only character I really had an issue with was Gale, played by Liam Hemsworth. Gale has been Katniss’ friend in each of the past two movies and in this flick he is supposed to be an important character.
The issue is that the character felt somewhat underdeveloped in the first two installments which made him feel a bit generic in this movie. It’s not that Hemsworth did a bad job in the role, it just seemed as though the character he played didn’t have much of an identity.
Francis Lawrence returned to the director’s chair for “Mockingjay” after previously filming “Catching Fire,” and he did a commendable job. He and his crew legitimately captured the look and created a fantastic atmosphere for a dystopian future.
From the underground city of District 13 to the old ruins of District 12, everything jumps off the screen and comes to life. The portrayal of technology is once again great, too. The aircraft used in the movie look better than they have in any of the previous installments and everything seems realistic.
Despite the action scenes being fewer in “Mockingjay,” the scenes that did have combative moments were all really well shot, too. There was a bit of the handheld shaky cam used during a few of the scenes, but it actually worked fairly well in the movie and went along with what was going on in the plot.
In particular, there is a scene toward the end of the film featuring a stealth mission that is sure to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The entire scene is dramatic and is reminiscent of the climactic moments in the 2012 film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Overall, “Mockingjay” is a solid start to the finale of “The Hunger Games.” It has very good acting, nice pacing and fine direction. There were just a few characters, Gale being the main example, who could have used some more development. 4 out of 5.