It’s Fine for a “Part 1”: A Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

mockingjay review

The Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Director: Francis Lawrence
Primary Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Natalie Dormer
U.S. Release Date: 21 November 2014

Part 1 ?!?????
The fact that Mockingjay Part 1 is the first part of a two-part movie really throws a wrench in things if you ask me. Not only does it make the film a tad tricky to review, it also changes the viewing experience significantly. Personally, I would love the trend of splitting as many films as possible into parts to increase ticket sales to die in a large fire. Sure, Deathly Hallows was split into 2, and I didn’t complain; but Deathly Hallows was a a 759 page novel (Mockingjay is just over half of that).

Anyway, yeah is it a movie or a half of a movie? Half, I guess. And not a particularly impressive or overly crap one either. Maybe Part 2 will make up for Mockingjay Part 1‘s shortfalls. However, AS IT STANDS NOW, the film is weaker than Catching Fire and is thus a bit of a disappointment. 

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it or that it does not have it’s moments. It’s just that Mockingjay Part 1 simply is not as thrilling or as moving as I wanted it to be, and that it left me wanting more (which I guess is the point of a “part 1” sort of ugh really I hate this trend please kill it).

Caveat
No, I haven’t read Mockingjay. I did read the first two novels earlier this summer (I was unemployed and needed something to do). Anyway, I can’t tell you what “die hard book fans” will think of this movie.

No summary with this review sorry its 4am. 

The best part of this film isn’t the script, or the story, it’s the acting. And by “the acting,” I mean Jennifer Lawrence and Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

Katniss is not an easy character to play. She is both cold and shy and fiercely passionate. She is also stubborn, damaged, and prone to intense self doubt. Luckily for all of us, Lawrence plays her more than effectively. She is an actress who knows how to command the audience’s attention without saying a word. Moreover, she is capable of delivering melodrama in believable, affective, and visceral way. I have a feeling that this franchise could have ended up pretty meh if someone with less skill and presence had be cast in her place.

As Heavensbee, PSH shines much brighter here than he did in Catching Fire. He is electric. He brings a certain amount of satirical heft (and even a bit of humor) to his scenes that add considerable merit to the film. 

Also, Hutcherson does not give a particularly mind-blowing performance, but he does seem to have improved considerably since the franchise began.

While I’m talking about performances, I should also add that while Moore’s performance as President Coin is interestingish, but it didn’t quite do it for me. In a way, her character resembles both Katniss and President Snow (Sutherland) which has some intriguing implications, but I couldn’t help but feel that she stills falls a little flat. (I almost didn’t believe her?)

After the acting, Mockingjay Part 1‘s strength lies in it’s satire and in its dark potential for real-world application. The film deals with televised war, with propaganda, with media control, with political manipulation, and with quite a bit more. It’s a timely film and it seems to want to say some rather important things. Unfortunately, a number of those things are lost in its milieu of YA distractions.

As a “part 1,” this film suffers from a certain narrative sluggishness. I suppose it’s to be expected, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a weakness. Viewers are given a great deal of exposition. Though a large portion of this exposition does make for good viewing, it simply does not lead anywhere especially satisfying.

There are also a number of lines in Mockingjay Part 1 that feel just too clunky and adolescent for my liking. Though all of the film’s dialogue is delivered with full commitment from the cast, some of it is still awkward and comes off as clumsy.

Speaking of awkward and even cringe worthy dialogue, a good part of it involves a cat. Why this cat was included in the film and was allowed to be present or discussed in so many scenes is beyond me. I love cats, and I know it might sound silly, but I seriously believe that the film would have been better (tighter, slicker) if the cat had been cut. 

Now that we’re on the topic of things that should have been cut: Gale. The annoying love triangle situation aside (thankfully, this aspect of the story is downplayed by the film), Gale feels out of place. Really. He’s a distraction. Watching him is a surefire way to end up with a nasty case of second-hand embarrassment. Ugh.

There is also an unfortunate lack of Woody Harrelson in this film. Some of the most moving and emotionally interesting scenes in Catching Fire involve Harrelson’s character Haymitch. By not including more of him in Mockingjay Part 1, Francis Lawrence wastes Haymitch’s potential. This is a real shame considering that after Katniss and Peeta, Haymitch the most complex and well-developed of the bunch.

Mockingjay Part 1 also should have ended about 2 scenes earlier than it does. Stopping the film there, would have left those who have not read the novel more eager for the next installment.

There is also a dream scene in the film in which Katniss imagines Peeta coming to comfort her after a nightmare. This scene is awkward, hard to watch, and serves no real narrative purpose. After all, the audience’s memory isn’t so bad that viewers need to be reminded of that fact that Katniss was once comforted by Peeta in a bed. This scene is another aspect of the film that I wish had died on the cutting room floor. 

Lastly, this film simply did not move me as much as the last two did. I actually cried in The Hunger Games and In Catching Fire. There were opportunities for such emotional impact in Mockingjay Part 1, but they were not as well utilized as they could have been. In truth, the most moving (and downright oppressively sad) moment of the film is when it ends and cuts to the words “In Loving Memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman” (don’t touch me, I can’t handle this). 

For fans of the The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 is a necessary installment. The film provides a great deal of information that is important to the story and offers a few glimmers of character development. The film is entertaining and perfectly watchable. That said, it also stumbles and almost cannot help but feel incomplete.

Until Next Time
Maybe I’m getting a little too old for films like this (is that a thing?), but at the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that the film’s Lorde-curated soundtrack is better than the film itself. Perhaps that will change once we have Part 2, so check with me again in about a year.

For the record, I would have preferred to see Rosewater this weekend, but my theater is a piece of shit and isn’t showing it. Also, for anyone who is wondering, no, I still have not managed to see Bird Man. I live in film hell please help. 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or to check out some of my other reviews and posts while you’re here :D.

3 thoughts on “It’s Fine for a “Part 1”: A Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

  1. Even though I haven’t watched it I enjoyed reading this (I know the book so to some degree I know what you’re describing). Of course I can’t agree or disagree with your statements.
    Also: “I hate this trend please kill it” ugh yes I agree (and basically everyone I know agrees I think).

    • I’m so glad that you enjoy reading this. 😀 I haven’t read the book yet (I will eventually since I have read the other 2), so I’m not in a place to say whether they adapt the source material well or not, but yeah . . . the pacing is very much that of a part 1.

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