Review: Mockingjay Part 1

No one should want to live in Panem and no one should wish they were Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games has never been a series to shy away from showing the horrors of war and the oppression of a people and Mockingjay wipes away all the glamor of the Capital to give its viewers an unblinking view. It’s unapologetically grim and bleak in a way that young adult geared films haven’t quite been before but that doesn’t stop Mockingjay Part 1 from succeeding as a thoroughly enjoyable film even if you likely won’t leave the theatre with a broad smile on your face.

After the abrupt end to the 75th Hunger Games, Katniss found herself swept off to District 13. Peeta is left behind and District 12 is no more. The leaders of the rebellion aren’t willing to give her time to grieve because they need her to be their symbol and ignite the people of Panem into action. She agrees to play their game but it has to be on her terms.  If they want their Mockingjay, they’ll have to agree to her conditions.

Adapting Mockingjay for the screen was always going to be a tough job but director Francis Lawrence has definitely risen to the occasion. Mockingjay breaks from the previous pattern as there’s no arena and creepy obstacles to film. There’s no defined trap for Katniss to fight her way out of. It’s just war. The book takes place entirely within the mind of a 17 year old girl whose almost definitely suffering from PTSD and whose been forced into a figurehead role in a war. It’s far from a cheerful read nor does it make for a chipper view. That said, Mockingjay clearly isn’t quite the action blockbuster that its predecessors were. Thankfully, the creative team made the decision to pull viewers out of Katniss’s head and show us more behind the scenes of District 13’s leadership and the occasional wisely used cut to President Snow back in the Capital. It significantly helps what could have been a painfully slow plot in a story already sliced in half.

While the slower pace and overall grimmer feel won’t detract from some people’s enjoyment of the film, it may bother some. It would have been interesting to see how the creative crew handled a single Mockingjay film that compressed the story into three hours. The film’s pacing could potentially have benefitted from the change. That said, the writers definitely chose the best (and most logical) place to split the film. Fans of just the films will likely yell at the screen while readers will nod their heads knowingly.

One of the consistent strengths of the Hunger Games has always been its excellent score and use of music. Mockingjay Part 1 continues that trend throughout the film culminating with a fantastically cut propaganda sequence. There will likely be tears in a few eyes at that point. (I cannot emphasize the great use of music enough here.) Combined with some great locations and sets, it’s hard not to be drawn into this world of Panem.

Another place where Hunger Games has always succeeded has definitely been with its actors. Everyone was perfectly cast. Much of the film rests upon Jennifer Lawrence’s shoulder and she delivers in spades. (That much as been evident since day one.) As for the rest of the cast, the standouts were probably Julianne Moore as President Coin and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch. As always, Elizabeth Banks provides some much needed levity as Effie Trinket and while Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch isn’t quite as present in this film as in the others, his dialogue is always a joy. Honestly, this entire review could be spent praising the cast.

At the end of the day, Mockingjay Part 1 is a well-done and well acted addition to the Hunger Games film franchise that could have been struck treading water and is definitely worth the time of those who’ve seen the previous films. I recommend that you head to the theatres once Mockingjay Part 1 opens officially on November 21st and see it for yourself.

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