Plenty to relish with a dazzling cast starring Jennifer Lawrence

Plenty to relish with a dazzling cast starring Jennifer Lawrence

Joyce Glasser reviews The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (November 20, 2014) Cert. 12, 123 min.

In the tradition of the Twilight and Harry Potter series, the final book of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire being the first two) has been divided into two films. In this case, squeezing two films out of one novel seems less of a creative decision than a financial one.

There is nonetheless plenty to relish: The dazzling cast returns with Julianne Moore as President Coin, the rebel leader. Jennifer Lawrence shines once more as the eponymous symbol of the rebellion, and the politics of propaganda reach new heights as the deadly tactics of the reality television games become real war games.

Still, While The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was good enough to leave you wanting more, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 badly needs Part II to give it more of a dramatic edge.

President Coin (Julianne Moore) has taken command of a secret underground military complex that is (rather surprisingly) a tower in the style of M.C. Escher rather than a horizontal bunker.

From here in District 13 Coin and hundreds of rebels, including the beautiful young people become soldiers: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence); Gale (Liam Hemsworth) Katniss’s old friend from District 12; and Finnick (Sam Claflin), a surviving victor of the Hunger Games who is distressed that his girlfriend has been captured by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 - Photo Credit - Murray Close - Copyright 2014 - Lionsgate - Credit IMDB

Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Three characters who have betrayed Dictator Snow (Donald Sutherland) to help lead the rebellion, include Games chaperone, stylist and publicity rep, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) in a role expanded for the film; Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) the master Games strategist himself, and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a middle-aged former Games victor from District 12 turned alcoholic who is forced to sober up by the rebels.

Despite their transformations, Katniss distrusts Coin, Plutarch and Haymitch for not saving her Games partner, propaganda fiancé and childhood friend, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).

Katniss is a reluctant symbol of the rebellion when the film opens, recovering from her escape from Quarter Quell (in which Katniss and Peeta are forced to compete again with past victors) and worried about the impact of her high visibility on her beloved Peeta, Snow’s prize prisoner.

Natalie Dormer in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 - Credit IMDB

Natalie Dormer in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

With the help of Cressida (Natalie Dormer), who has escaped from the Capitol with her camera crew, Plutarch and Coin design a P.R./propaganda campaign using Katniss to rally the districts and bolster confidence.

In studio, scripted messages with Katniss dressed in Effie’s stylish battle gear sound artificial.  It is only when Katniss witnesses a hospital full of wounded rebels being bombed by Snow’s army that the fire within her ignites on camera.

Changes from the book made by script writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig focus on the propaganda war between Snow’s camp and Coin’s, tactics that reflect those used in physical battle. There are some bombing scenes, but the battle of minds is what interests Collins and the filmmakers.

This hits home when Katniss realises that Snow is using Peeta against the rebels and to reach her Achilles Heel.  The District 13 soldiers look at Peeta as a weak traitor when he is interviewed on television in the Capital, claiming that it is Katniss who is being forced into her rebel position, and urging the rebels to put down their arms.

Katniss knows that Peeta has been brainwashed and demands that he be rescued. She does not know that Snow has been programming Peeta to be much more than a propaganda tool.

In contrast to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with its subtle and exciting script from Simon Beaufoy (the Full Monty) and Michael Arndt – remember the thrill in daring to wonder whether Plutarch was a spy in Snow’s camp? –  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 plods on, with skill, to be sure, but without the dramatic or emotional moments in the first two films.

It is a bit like Katniss’s failed in-studio propaganda film. Too much is being held back, and there is a lack of urgency and action.  The unsatisfying non-ending, in particular, can only serve to remind us that we have to wait another year for the goods to be delivered.

You can watch the film trailer here: