Katniss Everdeen blazed into the hearts of readers and viewers in the overwhelmingly popular Hunger Games series. Fans of the character will be rewarded in the latest instalment, Mockingjay – Part 1, as Jennifer Lawrence carries the heart of the film in her exceptional performance. However, fans of the narrative will be greatly disappointed.
The film commences with Katniss waking up in District 13, the lost region of Panem, which was supposedly destroyed by the Capitol. What she finds instead is the home of a fierce rebellion, lead by President Coin (Julianne Moore). Katniss also discovers that she was saved from the hunger games for one sole purpose, to be the face of an uprising. Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) coax her into becoming the Mockingjay, a symbol for all districts suffering at the hands of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Together they create propaganda videos to stir up animosity towards the Capitol. However, suffering from severe post-traumatic stress, and with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) imprisoned in the Capitol, this task may be made more difficult for Katniss than anticipated.
This film brags a distinguished cast, and they do not disappoint. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his final roles, is a strong presence within the film. Julianne Moore as President Coin expertly captures the harsh edge and sense of command we would expect from such a hardened leader. Fans will also delight in the resurfacing of beloved characters Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Although their appearances may be short lived.
Of course, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) steals most of the well-deserved attention. She delivers a tortured performance, rarely seen amongst our on-screen heroes. Lawrence undoubtedly drives the entire film. Without the strength of her character there would be little else to watch in Mockingjay – Part 1.
Director Francis Lawrence demonstrates a devotion to character development in his vision of the series. It is, and has always been, one of the core strengths of the franchise. Our experiences are almost always mediated through Katniss, thus making Lawrence’s engaging performance such a rich addition to the film.
It is fascinating to see how Katniss’ character is developed here. We can understand how her tortured state stems from her experiences in the hunger games. Robert Downey Jr. took a similar path in Iron Man 3; Tony Stark’s evolvement to a man disturbed by post-traumatic stress only added to the character and the film’s layers. We see the same thing here; Katinss’ character is taken to new levels and treated with authenticity.
Lawrence also does an outstanding job of creating the world of Panem. It’s easy to sit back and become completely immersed in the environment the creative team have constructed. District 13, where most of the film takes place, feels tangible and realistic. The ventures they make to other devastated districts, as well as the Capitol, are achieved with superb set design and special effects. As we have come to expect from the other two films in this series, the costuming is also exceptional, despite not having much opportunity to flourish within the movie.
That said, there is one glaringly obvious question when it comes to Mockingjay – Part 1: why, oh why, was it divided into two parts? It in no way feels like a creative decision, and it only means the film suffers. Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s screenplay, based on Suzanne Collins’ novel, too often feels drawn out for the sake of creating two separate films. As is inherent in first parts, the sense of an impending event is tangible throughout, but a payoff never comes. The stretching of the final chapter inevitably leaves the film feeling a little bare when it comes to action, problematic for a film of this genre.
The trend of chopping films into parts has recently snowballed. We have seen this happen before with the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit and The Twilight Saga. In this case, it is disappointing and unnecessary. If you have read the books, and know what is to come, the process of waiting within this film will be even more unbearable.
Mockingjay – Part 1 is an engrossing film with outstanding performances, but it won’t distract from why they felt the need to divide the story unnecessarily. This film would have been far more exceptional without ‘Part 1’ at the end of its title.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10