Mockingjay, Part I, |
directed by Frances Lawrence & Frances Lawrence II
The penultimate chapter of the Hunger Games saga, Mockingjay, Part I is entertaining and the special effects are great. Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) is terrific in a performance that boils over with fear and confusion. The film is compact and as such is so full of information there's almost too much to digest. It's darker and sadder than its predecessors, but it's also smart, engaging and filled with memorable characters. As with other middle sections of major stories, such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the pace is slower and more methodical, which is the function of the "bridging" part of any epic. There are moments that seem throwaway or cutout and moments when tension and excitement were sacrificed for rather melodramatic effect. The people and mission of District 13, where Katniss and her family and surviving friends are being sheltered, are not adequately explained. Fortunately, though, Mockingjay, Part I is still a quality movie, even if it is not quite up to the standards of the first two.
Katniss and her family, along with the few friends to survive the Capitol purge, are living in the underground bunkers of District 13, where the revolution is being plotted. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other Victors are being held hostage. War -- real, actual war -- has finally broken out. President Coin (Julianne Moore) and former Gamesmaster and now de facto propaganda leader Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), want to tap into Katniss's not inconsiderable charm and magnetism in order to use it to inspire people to continue to fight. She is not being used: she is being asked, with her full permission, to become the icon she truly is. Yet it's clear there's so much riding on the outcome it's barely a choice. She's still in an arena, she's still fighting for her life, and she still has to survive based on how well she understands her position and how well she is able to use it. It's all about the art of the hunt, whether you're dodging bombs or negotiating the freedom of your fellow victors across a table.
And so the center of the movie is the creation of effective propaganda in the service of a larger cause. That's what makes Mockingjay a political thriller as much as a genre film. The whole point of Suzanne Collins' series is that power corrupts, and twisted means produce twisted ends. This is reflected in the movie's grey-toned despair and bleakness. It is the horrors that Katniss witnesses that propel her to accept once more the position of being the rebellion's public face; it is not because she was ordered to or because she is ready to take on the world. She feels guilty for having started the war when it's more true that it was ready to spark all along, yet it's her own humanity that compels her to try and help because she simply wants the suffering to end by any means necessary.
The effect of the propaganda is galvanizing. Her natural, inborn defiance make her the perfect person to rally the district, and rally them she does. Lawrence manages to make Katniss project that heady mixture of bravery, vulnerability and daring that allows her to be her own person, no matter what she does for others. Her influence, she knows, has never been clearer, and it's enough to turn the Capitol upside down.
There isn't an ending so much as a pause, an intermission. Mockingjay lays the groundwork for a finale that promises to be exciting.
20 December 2014
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