Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I

Image courtesy of Lionsgate.
Make no mistake about it, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I" is a place holder - that is, for the finale, which Lionsgate has stretched into two films for maximum profits - but it's a good one. The film's success rides mostly on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, who brings more life and acting ability to the role of a blockbuster heroine than any franchise movie typically calls for. Her Katniss Everdeen has more personality than your typical action movie hero and it's largely due to Lawrence, who is, not surprisingly, currently the actress with the largest box office draw.

There's a fair amount of plot and exposition in "Mockingjay, Part I," so I'll try to keep it at a minimum. Suffice it to say, Katniss is fairly shell shocked after participating in her second Hunger Games and struggling to overcome her experiences in an underground bunker provided by the rebellion.

Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, always an asset) is attempting to convince the rebellion's leader, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, bringing the necessary gravitas), to use Katniss as a figurehead for the movement and inspire the districts to rise up against the Capitol and the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Meanwhile, Katniss' pal Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being used by the Capitol as a propaganda tool, urging Katniss and the rebels not to start a war via television. Katniss, on the other hand, is filmed engaging in battle and rallying the troops in the rebellion's own propaganda films, a task about which she has mixed feelings. And speaking of mixed feelings - Katniss must juggle two suitors, the captured Peeta (who is mostly seen here on screens being interviewed) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her friend from back home.

One of the film's more intriguing elements is its portrayal of image making (in this case, propaganda films, which can be a stand-in in for television, film, the news, you name it) as a tool for winning hearts and minds. "Mockingjay, Part I" is not only a big budget action movie, but it also explores the way we interact with media and the obvious benefits and dangers involved.

And yet, the film is mostly a build-up to what is likely to be a clash between Snow's Capitol and the rebels led by Coin and Katniss. This picture is sprinkled with a few such scenes, involving a rebellion in a forest and the bombing of a dam. For a film with only moderate sprinkles of violence, "Mockingjay, Part I" is fairly fast paced and exciting.

But what it all adds up to remains to be seen with next year's "Mockingjay, Part II." Although I still contend that the first "Hunger Games" is the best of the lot, this has been a pretty successful Hollywood franchise that has left many of its ilk in the dust - cinematically, thematically and narratively.

And although she had already been nominated for an Academy Award prior to the release of the first "Hunger Games" movie, this has been a star-making role for Lawrence. However, as the series goes on, I think it's the filmmakers and studio who may owe her a debt of gratitude - she carries these movies.

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