D: Francis Lawrence. DP: Jo Willems. W: Peter Craig & Danny Strong. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence/Josh Hutcherson/Liam Hemsworth/Philip Seymour Hoffman/Woody Harrelson/Julianne Moore/Donald Sutherland/Elizabeth Banks/Stanley Tucci/Sam Claflin/Jena Malone/Natalie Dormer/Jeffrey Wright/Willow Shields/Mahershala Ali. (Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name)
This holiday season began with the much awaited third installment in Suzanne Collins’ young adult The Hunger Games series. Picking up where Catching Fire left off, the film finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) awakening from the all-star games to the world of District 13, thought to be completely destroyed. She is quickly asked to become to symbol of the resistance, the mockingjay, and must decide where her loyalties fit in this new terrain.
Francis Lawrence, a primarily television and music video direct whose last feature film was 2011’s Water for Elephants, picks up the series seamlessly. There is a nice visual continuity between the film and its previous two, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games. This is difficult, but possibly an expression of his work with cinematographer Jo Willems. This team has the harder task of creating an atmosphere even bleaker than the previous films and much more transitional as one novel has been stretched into two films.
Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s script is adequate, but just simply cannot pack the same punch as the story ultimately feels thin. The emotionality of the cut off point for this film falls flat and unfortunately emphasizes the romance rather than the action and choices of Lawrence’s Katniss. This is the harder text to adapt as it lacks a games, but it should have been split into two films.
However, the saving grace in Mockingjay – Part 1 is Lawrence as Katniss. Shouldering the emotional weight of the film, her determination through trauma is felt through the camera and she is able to take the audience on a journey through understanding her own pain. Her chemistry with Hemsworth’s Gale is finally given service here, which Lawrence is able to give considerable depth too. It is nice relief to the rest of the film as one almost forgets that Katniss is only a teenager. Philip Seymour Hoffman is rather great here as Plutarch, giving extra sparkle to his lasting memory. Julianne Moore steps well into President Coin, but her severe gray wig actually distracts from her controlled performance.
Ultimately, the film serves its series well but cannot eclipse the extremely well handled Catching Fire. I would argue that Mockingjay is the least engaging of the novels and actually the most sad. As young adult fiction goes, it rounds out the series very well, a rare fete as this novel is so distinct from the first two. Therefore, I am inclined to forgive aspects of the film as the source material is just not the same. But we will all just have to wait and see how part two plays out.