Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

mockingjay

(there’s a bonus part at the end)

The closing chapter of The Hunger Games has been opened.

If you’re still asking why the last book was (unnecessarily) split into two films, you’re a naive spirit who knows nothing of the world (hint: $$$$). But the cash grab comes at a cost, Part 1 feels more like a teaser, a build-up of events that will crescendo in Part 2. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s own climax, but you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling just a little bit shortchanged. Remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1? It’s a similar feeling. However, Suzanne Collins’ books aren’t nearly as lengthy so there’s no beating around the bush, hence this film ends at a reasonable time.

Danny Strong’s screenplay with a rewrite from Peter Craig (who also adapted The Town to the big screen)indicates two strong screenwriters knowing how to tie things up neatly. What’s missing though is the omnipresent tension Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt created in Catching Fire. But then again, Catching Fire began and ended within one film.

The unusual nightmare sequence is a fitting start, and things get into action soon after. We’re soon introduced to the familiar faces who survived the events of the Quarter Quell and are now taking refuge in the underground District 13. Then there’s the grand addition of Julianne Moore as Alma Coin, the district’s president.

Moore knows how to play strong and resilient without overdoing the angry or passive-aggressive. She’s a character at peace with herself while at war with the Capitol which makes for a great performance. Equally enthralling is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a turn so animated, you forget the actor has been dead for almost a year, until the end credits remind you with a dedication. Mahershala Ali is also introduced as Boggs, the head of security at District 13 and Katniss’ immediate new ally, blending in seamlessly with a dignified presence. But major props go to Elizabeth Banks as a de-glammed Effie, who might have been stripped off of her wigs and costumes but not her snark.

I’ve always felt that the entire book and film series can be summed up as an allegory on various sociopolitical issues. The main analysis of this part is definitely media manipulation. The 13th District use Katniss as their charismatic mascot, their titular Mockingjay. They begin creating video clips with the help of a professional film crew led by Cressida Bonas (a Skrillex-haired Natalie Dormer). They film guerrilla-style snippets to rile up their supporters. On the other hand, the Capitol broadcasts talk show-like one-on-one’s between a hostage Peeta and Caesar Flickerman who does his best using emotionally manipulative language. The film nails this look at two different parties connecting to their core audience with the appropriate platforms and images.

The sound design throughout is a work of beauty. The crashes, bangs, and thuds never shoot out yet still hit you hard.The emphasis is not the volume of the sound, but it’s impact. The foley work is realistic and never sounds looped in during post-production, a problem that plagues many blockbusters today. James Newton Howard’s score too is the right amount of subtle, never highjacking a moment (*cough* Interstellar *cough*)

This subtlety thankfully carries over into the action sequences. Believe it or not, no in your face destruction or bevvy of screen-hogging explosions, even when air raids destroy structures or when a dam explodes in a bomb attack. The Michael Bay’s of the industry need to take cues from Francis Lawrence. Speaking of which, mea culpa time. I was quick to judge Lionsgate’s hiring of Lawrence when Gary Ross departed. Owing to his previous work, the one thing I never thought he would add was subtlety, yet he’s done a commendable job on two and soon three films.

The two lynchpins that hold the conflict are heroine Katniss and big bad Coriolanus Snow. Color me biased, but I find Jennifer Lawrence to be a primary reason why Katniss Everdeen is so iconic. She’s equal parts strength and vulnerability, letting her rage take over when needed and breaking down when her loved ones are at risk. She’s a person, not an archetype. It really helps that Lawrence personable enough to add dimension to her character. Donald Sutherland is a masterclass happening before you. Like the seasoned veteran that he is, he gives Snow – a ruthless tyrant who wears white roses on his lapel to cover the blood stench in his mouth caused by poison sores- a soft-spoken cadence and an almost paternal disposition. The only thing scarier than an angry dangerous man is an unusually calm dangerous man.

Bonus- HERE is the best part:

If you read the book, you know about when Pollux requests Katniss to sing which Cressida & the crew record. Suzanne Collins wrote the poetic hymn The Hanging Tree into the book to be this song. Katniss describes it as a song her father taught her, but people could no longer sing because it was deemed anti-Capitol. Well fans, the song made it to the movie! The Lumineers gave it a melody and James Newton Howard added a score. I personally love the song because it reminds me of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Joan Baez’s The Tress They Do Grow High, rosy melodies coded with macabre subtext. Jennifer Lawrence can definitely hold a note, her husky vocals add a new depth. In the context of when it appears in the film, it’s goosebumps-inducing and becomes the unofficial anthem of protest for all the districts. Listen here:

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