Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, Woody Harrelson, Evan Ross, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Robert Knepper, Gwendoline Christie, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci
Runtime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/TheHungerGamesMovie
Opening Day: 20 November 2014
Synopsis: The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. The novel on which the film is based is the third in a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins that has over 65 million copies in print in the U.S. alone.
With the shot of an arrow, Katniss Everdeen demolished the annual Hunger Games and set in motion a rebellion that may very well overthrow the totalitarian rule of the Capitol which has held sway over the people in twelve Districts for the past 75 years. But to get to that point of the struggle, Katniss needs to be transformed from a survivor into an icon, a symbol that would come to represent what the revolution stands for in order to rally the people from the Districts to come forth from fear and join in the armed struggle.
Opinion will certainly be divided whether the concluding book in Suzanne Collins’ ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy should have been split into two movies, but unlike other similarly cleaved YA-franchises, the verdict is very much clearer in this case whether ‘Mockingjay’ merits that split. By leaving the inevitable showdown between the rebels and the Capitol for another film, this prelude instead leaves enough breathing room for itself to be an intimately sombre character study of Katniss, the reluctant heroine from District 12 who over the course of two years of her life and two iterations of the to-the-death bloodsport found herself in a position to become a leader of a cause, but at a tremendous price not just personally but also collaterally.
Even though the Games are done, Katniss remains the traumatised centre of this penultimate chapter. Her rescuer, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the leader of the rebel cause, District 13’s President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), want Katniss to be the star of a series of propaganda videos (or “propos”), but as her former mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) shrewdly observes, Katniss has never done well following orders. Instead, her transformation would have to come from within, and this is in fact her two-hour coming-of-age story.
Wisely choosing not to antagonise rabid fans of Collins’ books, screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong (both newcomers to the franchise) remain thoroughly faithful to the book. From a solo visit to District 12 to see firsthand what is left of it to another tour of the equally ravaged District 8 where the dead, the dying and the starving are crammed in the same makeshift hospital, Katniss’ witness of the extent of Snow’s brutality and her empathy for its victims will eventually fuel her fire to rage defiance against the Capitol’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But Snow has his own spokesman – Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow tribute from District 12 and no less than her lover; Peeta is Snow’s weapon against Katniss, ‘hijacked’ by Snow and put on Capitol TV to plead with Katniss to back down.
Not like in the Games, Katniss’ trials here are more psychological than physical, so those expecting the same straightforward page-turning thrills of ‘Catching Fire’ will probably be quite disappointed. Gone is the colourful world of the Games, and in its place an austere subterranean environment where everyone dresses in boiler suits and even the formerly flamboyant Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has to forgo her wigs and make-up. That change of pace and place isn’t however a bad thing at all, for it does allow us the space and time to fully appreciate the emotional depth of Jennifer Lawrence’s acting.
More than in the other two films, Lawrence is simply tremendous here, conveying so many different shades within the same character – vulnerability as evidenced by how quickly she is seized by helplessness when she sees Peeta on TV, doubt in the her wariness towards President Coin and her spin doctor Plutarch, but most importantly her fierce determination when she turns towards the camera and delivers a personal message to Snow: “if we burn, you burn with us”. Lawrence has always been the beating heart of this dystopian saga, and by letting Katniss’ bow and arrow take a backseat to her emotional struggles, this chapter sees Lawrence deliver her most soulful, stirring and storm-raging performance yet.
The less said about Hemsworth the better, but though her equivalent male co-stars fail to rise to the game, she finds plenty of support in similar acting heavyweights Moore, Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Sutherland. Such an ensemble may seem out of place in a YA-franchise, but their participation also indicates their confidence in the material. There is rich political subtext here about waging a revolution, not simply in military strategy but also in a more significant battle of the minds, wills and hearts. It was an inspired choice for Strong to be chosen as screenwriter – his previous work on HBO’s ‘Recount and ‘Game Change’ as well as last year’s ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ certainly reveals his proclivities – and thankfully, returning director Francis Lawrence grasps the nuances in Strong’s adaptation acutely and assuredly.
He may not be the Lawrence in front of the camera, but this Lawrence behind it guides the proceedings with poise and élan, confidently balancing the action and politics while finding just the right tone that never comes across too heavy-handed on either tragedy or melodrama, managing to even insert some moments of levity (courtesy of Effie and Haymitch). The opening half hour could be tighter, but once the film gets into its stride, you’ll find it just as gripping as the earlier films, in particular a daring raid under the cover of darkness into the heart of the Capitol’s Tribute Centre to rescue the victors of the Games – most prominently Peeta.
It does necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but this mid-sentence pause feels much more organic than say that of the ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Twilight’ series. If you’ve just wanted a wham-bang thriller, then we say go re-watch ‘Catching Fire’; indeed, Collins’ trilogy was never meant to be just that. Without resorting to any voiceovers, this deliberately-paced but no less engrossing chapter retains the book’s first-person, present-tense perspective of Katniss while losing none of the political allegory that Collins had intended from the very start. It may not catch fire, but it is a slow-burner that nonetheless captivates, enthrals and thrills.
(More deliberately-paced than its predecessors, this penultimate chapter is still tense and gripping as an intimate character study on its heroine Katniss Everdeen and a smart political allegory on revolution)
Review by Gabriel Chong