Written by Dania Syed
What To Expect
“Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us,” is President Snow’s sneering remark to Katniss in the trailer, which sets the tone for the first penultimate chapter of The Hunger Games trilogy’s epic finale. Taking its foot off the action – because Katniss literally shattered the games forever – the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (or just ‘Mockingjay 1’) dives deeper into a darker sea of political uprising. Riding high on its success from the first two films, expectations from the franchise’s ‘opening’ to its finale run high and rightly so – there is much to be learned about the fates of Miss Everdeen, her loved ones, and her home, District 12.
For the loyal readers who know how it all goes down, the real suspense probably lies in where director Francis Lawrence will pull the dreaded handbrake on this placeholder for Part 2. For them and franchise-followers alike, Mockingjay 1 is no longer about action-packed games of survival, rather conquering a battle torn between being personally driven and politically motivated.
What’s It About
Mockingjay 1 picks up right where its predecessor Catching Fire left off as the imminent civil war that Panem faces has only just begun and The Capitol has incarcerated masses and bombed districts, including 12, to the ground. Declaring the ‘Mockingjay’ and all those associated with her movement as radicals, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) orders all perpetrators to be executed without mercy. Secretly hidden District 13’s President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) propose Katniss respond to The Capitol’s agitprop broadcasts with propaganda of their own to continue to unite other districts in rebellion and topple The Capitol.
Despite the jeopardy threatening all of Panem, Katniss remains frantic about Peeta, who has been labeled a traitor by District 13 for pleading a ceasefire. Convinced that he is being ‘forced’ to say things, Katniss strikes a deal with Coin and Plutarc for Peeta’s rescue and safety, along with the other victors, in return for becoming the symbol of a revolution.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
For the film’s surface we retitle this to ‘the good, the good, and the good,’ as stellar performances and heart-thumping moments sans action in the film shine. Being a stepping-stone for a bigger and more epic closer to the franchise due next year, Mockingjay 1 had potential to misfire. Lionsgate would understandably like to save as much as it could for the ‘grand finale,’ and following the more kinetic-paced battles emblazoned with hues and visual artistry in its predecessors, this film risked squeezing the patience out of its viewers with its shift in pace, mood, and focus. Thankfully, the odds were mostly in director Lawrence’s favour!
Digging a little deeper, no film in The Hunger Games saga has so far shared screenplay writers, and with Mockingjay 1 Emmy-winning TV actor Danny Strong (Game Changer) makes his film writing debut alongside one-film-old Peter Craig (The Town) as the two join hands to compile the screenplay with a fresh standpoint, a clever strategy (whether intended or not) that has clearly worked! Strong and Craig skillfully explore emotional depth while knitting together a bold political subtext, and make Mockingjay 1 a character analysis before it is a dystopian fiction, which isn’t entirely bad if you are open to it.
The first two being shot on 35 mm, this is the first film in the series to be shot digitally. Jo Willems, who opened up the world in Catching Fire, is at the helm of the cinematography yet again and brings intimacy between the viewers and the characters whilst capturing some intriguing visuals and encapsulating the darkness that lurks.
Alan Edward Bell, who was also editor for director Lawrence’s Water For Elephants, takes on the edit suite reins for the second consecutive film in the series with Mockingjay 1. His experienced hands are coupled with Mark Yoshikava’s (Tree Of Life), and together the pair creates a compelling grayish tone throughout the film that keeps your nerves alert yet alarmingly calm at the same time. Their notable use of cross-cuts and long edits, coupled with music from James Newton Howard, whose compositions have seen him score numerous Oscar nominations, have created heart-stopping moments and even the slowest of moments in the film cease to be glum.
From a bird’s-eye view, Mockingjay 1 ends with the plot not too far off from where Catching Fire left it, which isn’t entirely bad. However, the amount of time Lawrence had at his disposal, he could have used to explore the inner emotions of other important characters such as Finnick, Gale, President Coin and/or even Plutarch, all of whom are prominent figures that are significantly under-examined. That said, Mockingjay 1 is a deep breath in, bluntly setting grounds for the much bigger bang to follow.
To Perform Or Not To Perform
Jennifer Lawrence – what’s not to like?! From the moment you glance at the poster, you know hers is going to be a gratifying performance to watch. She is the grace of the entire franchise, and despite her arrows taking a back seat for this installment (save but one instance), her fervent personation is what shines throughout the series, and she adds soulfulness to her Katniss with a comparatively subdued but heartfelt performance.
Josh Hutcherson is given less time than we are used to him having, as his Peeta is continuously being tortured off-screen and dangled by The Capitol as a weapon to mock Katniss. Personally, his lack of chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence makes you happier to see them apart. Liam Hemsworth, on the other hand, has his Gale more prominent at last alongside Katniss, and he does not disappoint as the brave, sincere young man who painfully watches the love of his life slip away from him.
Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch was received with an off-screen applause from the viewers and rightly so, as he times some mild comic cues to perfection, accompanied by Elizabeth Banks’s Effie Trinket to help Katniss stir an uprising with the same co-existing ignorance and assertiveness that we have grown to admire.
President Alma Coin was initially being considered a role for Jodie Foster, but was given to Julianne Moore, who does not disappoint. She portrays the statuesque Coin with great poise. Her deputy and ex-game-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee, is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s second-last appearance before his untimely death, and Plutarch’s evident affinity for Katniss’s straight-forwardness only paves way for doubting a man whose nature it is to manipulate.
Donald Sutherland is as menacing as ever as President Snow, and Willow Shields as Prim eloquently lays a moving foundation for the series of events yet to follow. Sam Claflin as Finnick, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, among many others from past installments deliver in the regular intervals we see them at. A notable addition is Natalie Dormer as Cressida, Katniss’s sharp propo director.
The over-all verdict: yes!
There is no big battle yet, and very little action to saturate the visuals with. But that does not mean that Mockingjay 1 isn’t clearly building up to something great. If you’re a reader, you may be expecting the change of tone. If you’re not, then do. But brush up on previous events if you need to before you go, as the film gets straight to point without any ‘Previously on…’ to jog your memory!
Star Rating: 4 / 5