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Hunger Games, The: Mockingjay- Part 1
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Revolution Blues"
4 stars

Under normal circumstances, it would be so easy to be annoyed with the very existence of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1." For starters, it is yet another adaptation of a YA best-seller positing a future dystopia featuring good-looking youngsters who discover that they have the power to change things forever and female elders who appear to have been issued Edgar Winter's hair. More specifically, it is the third film in the "Hunger Games" franchise to appear in as many years and that rate of output can get a little tiresome after a while. It stars Jennifer Lawrence and as delightful as she can be, her ubiquitous presence at the multiplex, award shows and Internet hacking scandals is almost at the point where some form of backlash is almost inevitable. Then there is the fact that, following in the hallowed footsteps of the last entries in the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" sagas, the final books have been split into two parts in order to give their sprawling narratives room to breathe and, more importantly, inspire audiences to essentially pay two separate admissions to see one complete story. And yet, despite the over-exposure and over-familiarity of the material and its participants, "Mockingjay, Part 1" is a real movie and not simply an excuse for its producers to print money. This is smart and ambitious filmmaking that contains so many good and surprising things, even at this stage of the game, that most viewers will not only easily forgive its occasional hiccups but wonder why other films of this sort don't even attempt to hit the heights that this one does.

When we last left the saga (and this review is, like the film itself, pretty much going to assume that you know everything that has gone on up to this point in the story), the fearless and fetching Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) has just brought down the Hunger Games, the yearly futuristic debauch in which young people from the 12 districts of the bleak future world fight to the death as a way for the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to keep them under control, for good before being pulled to safety by rebels, leaving her occasionally beloved fellow fighter Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind. Katniss is now in the below-ground land of District 13, an area thought to have been destroyed but which is currently breeding a rebellion under the auspices of their leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and her chief adviser, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final performances). Their plan is to unite the other districts to rebel against Snow once and for all and the key to this is Katniss, the one person inspiring enough to bring them all together.

At first, Katniss is not interested in being a propaganda tool but after seeing the destruction that Snow has inflicted on her home area of District 12, she agrees to do so on one key condition--the rebels must launch a mission to help rescue Peeta, who is in the Capital making pro-president statements calling for an end to the rebellion, perhaps not entirely of his own will. With a documentary crew in tow, Katniss goes off to visit some of the other embattled districts and after single-handedly bringing down two planes with a single arrow shot after they bombed a hospital, the resulting footage inspires uprisings everywhere that strike the first real blows against Snow's regime. Of course, as befitting any character played by Donald Sutherland, Snow has a few things up his sleeve as well and when Katniss is finally reunited with Peeta following the big rescue attempt, things do not go entirely according to plan.

Although I liked the first "Hunger Games" a lot--far more than I might have expected to--I had a few problems with the follow-up "Catching Fire." Oh, it was well-made and contained some nice performances but it suffered from the same fate that befell "The Two Towers" in that it was the middle story of a trilogy and since it contained nothing in the way of dramatic set-ups or conclusions, it was basically treading narrative water for the most part and lacked a certain urgency as a result. Since "Mockingjay, Part 1" only tells the first part of its final chapter, I feared that it would fall into the same trap as "Catching Fire" but happily, that is not the case.

Although there is less action on display here than in the previous installments (though Katniss still kicks all imaginable degrees of ass throughout), "Mockingjay, Part 1" deepens our knowledge of who Katniss is, what drives her and how her public image as a fearless warrior masks a scared, angry and vulnerable young woman who has literally become the center of a revolution through no fault of her own. Most significantly, this was the first time that I genuinely felt that there was a genuine connection between Katniss and Peeta that would drive her to do the things that she does at certain points--all the more impressive in this case since the two are separated for most of the running time.

Additionally, even though Katniss is still front and center, the screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong does a good job of juggling all the other characters in her world without ever feeling as though they have been gratuitously shoved into the mix. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still her loyal friend, even though he senses that he is the weak leg in the triangle involving him, her and Peeta. Former advisors Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) are back as well and struggling to adjust to their new circumstances--sobriety for Haymitch and radical deglamorization for the once-colorful Effie. As for Primrose (Willow Shields), the little sister who instigated the entire thing when Katniss took her place in the Hunger Games long ago, she takes a more prominent position as well and also demonstrates that she apparently never got around to seeing "Alien" when she decided to look for her cat at an especially inopportune moment. For his part, director Francis Lawrence (who also did "Catching Fire") does a good job of keeping things moving along without letting the padding show too overtly.

The secret weapon of the "Hunger Games" films is that they have not only managed to acquire strong casts but have also managed to give them things to do so that they don't seems as though they are just coasting through the proceedings wearing silly outfits and mouthing impenetrable in exchange for a heft paycheck, as was the depressing case in films like "Divergent" and "The Giver." Jennifer Lawrence, for example, could easily just go through the motions with these films at this point in her career but she is still finding new angles to explore with the character of Katniss and completely commits to the role both physically and emotionally. Likewise, the supporting cast is also on their toes throughout--Harrelson and Banks bring some much-needed laughs to the proceedings, Sutherland turns on the malevolence as only he can and Natalie Dormer is a welcome addition as a sort of post-punk Reifenstahl charged with making Katniss into a superheroine for her time through the magic of cinematic propaganda. (In one of the funniest moments, the resulting film looks surprisingly similar to the trailer for the first "Hunger Games." As for Philip Seymour Hoffman, there will no doubt be much comment as his work here (as well as next year's conclusion) will be his final screen appearances, especially in regards to the moment in which his character remarks, in regards to Katniss as the symbol of the rebellion, "Anyone can be replaced." That said, his work here is really good--far better than in "Catching Fire" and even a marked improvement over his off-key turn in the recent espionage drama "A Most Wanted Man"--and will once again remind viewers of just what a prodigious talent we lost with his passing.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" is not without its flaws here and there. Some of the dialogue is embarrassingly on the nose--one of the biggest laughs at the screening I attended came when a character delivers an over and obvious warning and Woody Harrelson, as if to make sure everyone gets it, blurts out "That was a warning!"--and some of the behind-the-scenes intrigues are occasionally a bit too murky for their own good. Others may be put off somewhat by the relative lack of overt kinetic thrills and the decidedly darker tone that has been applied to a saga that wasn't exactly fun and games to begin with. That said, this is both a more than worthy addition to the franchise--just as good as the original and a step up from "Catching Fire"--and an impressive piece of blockbuster filmmaking in its own right. Sure, I suppose splitting it into two parts may be a bit of a cheat (though the division is handled pretty well, though there is a spot a few moments earlier that might have been even better) but if so, that is the only cheat that the franchise has given viewers to date and if that results in another movie that maintains this level of quality, I would have no problem with that.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24062&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/20/14 16:03:23
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User Comments

4/01/16 Meep Like the first two films, but this split in 2 BS has to stop compromising quality 2 stars
1/02/15 Terror Total shit and boring as hell 1 stars
11/28/14 David Rivetting,brilliant chapter 5 stars
11/26/14 kenner one of the most disappointing chapters ever 1 stars
11/26/14 Lsp4 soooo good! 5 stars
11/24/14 Fletcher Jerome Amazing 4 stars
11/24/14 DeNitra I thought it was very enthralling 5 stars
11/21/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Jennifer Lawrence. But the movie is shit. 1 stars
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