With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore. Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material. 123 minutes.
As the first half of what should have been a single film, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I does a good job of setting up the events of the final book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy. As a film standing on its own, it is long and slow and unsatisfying. It will undoubtedly make a lot of money and so Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson, as it did with turning “The Hobbit” into three bloated films.
For those who know where it’s going, “Mockingjay, Part I” gets a lot right. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) remains that mix of bravery, daring, and insecurity that makes her one of the most memorable of modern heroines. She and her mother and sister are now refugees in District 13, the base for President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and the rebel forces. Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has defected from the Capitol forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), convinces Coin that Katniss can be the face of the revolution. Her acts of defiance in the first two films make her the perfect person to rally and unite the other districts. The only one who has trouble believing it is Katniss herself.
Lawrence captures the contradictions within Katniss in a sequence when she visits a hospital filled with the dead and wounded. In turn she is shaken, stirred when she sees the effect she has on people, and then defiant when the Capitol strikes back. If “The Hunger Games” can be read (and seen) as an extended metaphor for adolescence, it is in “Mockingjay” that Katniss finally comes of age and takes full responsibility for her actions rather let herself be the pawn of others.
That’s in contrast to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is in the hands of Snow and is being used for propaganda purposes to suppress the rebellion. The irony is that both Katniss and Peeta are being used, but since Snow is a cruel and sadistic leader–he orders mass murder just to make a point–it is Peeta who needs rescuing, an action taken up the last part of this film.
The look and feel of the film is different from the first two, since the Capitol scenes are brief and mostly in tight shots focusing on Snow, Peeta, or unctuous interviewer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). We get much more of a sense of the spare military conditions of District 13, where Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) can’t get a drink, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) can’t get make-up, and Katniss has to demand that her sister be allowed to keep her cat. If you’re wondering what the world will look like after the revolution, you’re starting to get the idea.
The real problem here is that reviewing this film is like reviewing the first half of a book. There’s plenty of foreshadowing of what is to come but the story doesn’t so much come to an end as have an intermission. Those who haven’t read the book will likely feel frustrated and those who haven’t seen the other movies shouldn’t even bother.
For fans of the books and/or movies, “Mockingjay, Part I” can’t really be judged until we see “Part II.” Unfortunately, due to the President Snow types at Lionsgate, we have to wait another year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.