At first glance, it has all the trappings of a cash-grab third installment of a franchise that has the nerve to split the final book of its adaptation into two movies. However, upon closer inspection, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” is anything but formulaic facileness. It takes boldness to make a non-action-oriented action film, but in this case that contrarian style works, and this setup film is an emotional juggernaut that might surprise even the most ardent fans of the franchise’s first two excellent films.
Some readers have low expectations for the final two movies because they thought the trilogy’s final book was the weakest of the author Suzanne Collins’ series, it matters little with a film this tension filled and well-acted.
And that’s one of the important elements that make this franchise—and particularly this installment, which is admittedly a transition film to the series finale—work so beautifully: it relies on a bevy of Oscar-caliber actors who carry the script’s pathos-heavy framework with confidence and grace.
Jennifer Lawrence is still perfect as Katniss Everdeen, a now battle-weary heroine of two Hunger Games competitions who is hidden away in a massive underground shelter in District 13. Could her Mockingjay persona be the inspiration that leads a rebellion against the Capitol’s diabolical President Snow (Donald Sutherland)? Beyond Lawrence and Sutherland, the list of great actors continues: Julianne Moore as the icy rebel leader Coin, her glib, calculating Plutarch (the late Philip-Seymour Hoffman), the dressed-down but ever-engaging Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Katniss’ wise but perpetually intoxicated mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).
While Katniss feels the call to duty to help the rebellion, her heart is torn asunder while watching her sweetheart Peeta Mellark’s (Josh Hutcherson) Capitol-friendly broadcasts. Are these videos displaying a physically ravaged Peeta traitorous propaganda, or do they represent the coerced rantings of a tortured prisoner of war?
Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) strips ‘Part 1’of both the lavish color schemes and bloody battles of the previous films, and chooses to display war’s devastation in the appropriately somber tones of greys and browns. But there are moments of quiet beauty along a river’s edge, a haunting melody sung softly by Katniss, and tender moments with little sister Primrose (Willow Shields).
The good news about a well-done setup film is that the ending is suitably abrupt without the feeling of an unsatisfying tease. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” doesn’t make us want to see more final films split into two parts, but it makes the decision to do so in this instance feel absolutely warranted.
‘Part 2’ can’t come soon enough.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.