The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1

In cinemas now. Directed by Francis Lawrence / Written by Peter Craig, Danny Strong adapted from the book by Suzanne Collins / Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore
This is an atypical tent pole release with its primary colours muted and its mood downcast yet resilient. Totally different from the action beats that punctuated its predecessors Mockingjay Part 1 will surely divide fans of the tone of those films but anyone who paid closer attention should be satisfied that the story of Katniss Everdeen is as absorbing and detailed as you’re likely to get in this genre.

Picking up from the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is now being sheltered in District 13 under the protection of a surprisingly large and well equipped subterranean dwelling rebel faction. Their President Alama Coin aims to persuade her to become the symbol of the simmering revolution her public defiance during the Games ignited yet she is reluctant. Bruised and battered it is only when Katniss sees for herself the devastation that President Snow has rained down on her own district that she coalesces.
The film presents its contents very well indeed. Francis Lawrence employs indie style direction to sequences that might otherwise be generic whether dialogue or action driven. His style means we feel the impact of the attacks on the rebel base; there’s one scene in particular where people are racing down stairs to shelter that is especially effective. The narrative is aware of itself in a good way- early scenes of Katniss’ propaganda films seem to poke fun at the kind of film Mockingjay could be in less capable hands.
The story is looked at from quite a contemporary perspective. Katniss’ every response to atrocities is filmed and incorporated into stirring bulletins broadcast to the masses. The scenes wandering about charred landscapes, hollowed out buildings and collapsed lives could be contemporary Syria, Iraq or Gaza. Francis Lawrence’s style means the attacks have a real fury about them, conveying the horrors of any war. There is no rush to tell the story and a convincing line along which Kartniss travels to get to where she is by the conclusion. 
Even the old bus stop had gone.
As you’d expect the whole thing revolves around the one character. It is Katniss’s story that over-rides everything and this can sometimes smother other characters. Jennifer Lawrence plays it all so convincingly and never once falters even if the actual dialogue can sometimes seem a tad stagey. Her reaction to the horrors around her and her absolute determination to rescue Peeta (now languishing in the Capitol and being used as a propaganda tool against her) is achingly good.
If there’s a problem it’s with the other side. As portrayed by Donald Sutherland, Snow is an excellent hissable villain but the script offers little else. He is particularly ruthless and rather clever this time round but answers as to why are not forthcoming. When you have an antagonist so totally evil as this siding with the rebellion is an easy sell to the audience yet you sometimes hope for something more nuanced. If Katniss can be a three dimensional character why can’t Snow be as well?
When others do get a look in though they are excellent; in one of his last roles Philip Seymour Hoffman imbues Plutarch with a calm exterior that lets us peek occasionally at a worried man. Julianne Moore as President Coin gives us a practical leader with an inner strength. The biggest surprise is Josh Hutcherson whose comparatively short scenes dotted throughout the film show him uncoiling a startling performance never hinted at in the first two films. It all leads to a leap off the seat moment near the end.
Some may see this film as too slow, too long or not exciting enough but for those willing to buy into it, Mockinjay Part 1 is an intelligent grounded film that other big movies could learn from. 

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