Sunday, 14 December 2014
Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One
I blame Harry Potter.
Splitting the film adaptation of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows into two films started a precedent, especially among final instalments of Young Adult novel adaptations. The Twilight franchise did it. The Divergent franchise will do it, and now The Hunger Games has done it. Whether it was done for a cynical marketing ploy to wring more money from the fans or whether done for the exigences of the story, I don't know (I suspect a little of Column A and a little of Column B) but, as it stands, here is Mockingjay: Part One.
After the events of the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now in the militaristic District 13, overseen by the powerful President Coin (Julianne Moore). Since Katniss' actions in the arena (as seen in Catching Fire), Panem has been in a state of rebellion. Coin wants to capitalise on this momentum and try and overthrow the Capitol, but they need a figurehead- they want Katniss to act as their Mockingjay. There's just one problem. Several of the other tributes in the Quarter Quell arena, including Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have been captured and are being held by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss agrees to act as the Mockingjay but there's a few conditions: one being the immediate rescue of the tributes...
Without the focus of the actual Games itself, there was a danger that there would be no focal point of action in Mockingjay. Luckily several action set pieces make up for this. It's also chockful of brilliant performances, none more so than Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence has been superb in the other films and continues that high level of quality here. What's interesting about Katniss' position in Mockingjay is she's not a superhero, she's traumatised and scarred by what's happened to her and that comes through. Lawrence shows a startling level of maturity, sharing the screen with some of the strongest actors working in film at the moment and matching them. Truly remarkable work.
Julianne Moore- criminally underrated- is great as Coin. She's ruthless, determined but not callous or unfeeling, just incredibly pragmatic. Donald Sutherland is similarly great as President Snow, giving quite a broad performance (almost Bond-villain-esque in places, wide-eyed madness in lieu of previous steely understatement) but in terms of the character arc, it's completely understandable. Liam Hemsworth- so often relegated to minor player in the other films- gets more of a substantive role here and does well as Gale. Philip Seymour Hoffman's scenes have an added poignancy to them but it's a reminder of how good he was as an actor as Plutarch schemes and manipulates to get Katniss to be the Mockingjay.
Elizabeth Banks returns as Effie Trinket, now much more understated away from the ostentatiousness of the Capitol but losing none of that trademark camp bite. Natalie Dormer is strong as director Cressida, charged with making the propaganda films to destabilise the Capitol. Josh Hutcherson's performance as Peeta is affecting as the effects of the Capitol's torture of Peeta is writ large across his face. Finally, there's a lovely performance by Sam Claflin as Finnick, one of the tributes who puts himself on air to divulge a few of the Capitol's nasty little secrets as the rebels storm the Capitol in search of the tributes.
The other two films have made much of the contrast between the life in the Districts and the opulence and overindulgence of the Capitol, with the Capitol scenes bright and gaudy and obscenely over-the-top. There's not much made of that this time - the whole palette of the film seems muted and there are no real flashes of colour. It's a much more serious world presented (even though they still do the really annoying and frankly nauseating camera work where the cameraman runs after the characters and the camera shakes with every jolt).
They've also picked a bit of a weird place to split the book and end the first film (but then I felt the same about Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows). They could have easily cut it a good 10-15 minutes before and ended on a nice cliffhanger, but they choose to press on and end it on a less powerful moment.
These are minor issues and do not detract from the whole thing. It's a strong film and worth your time and I'm looking forward to seeing the resolution of the franchise when Mockingjay Part Two hits cinemas next November.
Rating: 4 out of 5