Sunday 23 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) - Movie Review

As I write this, I am also working on a presentation about film tastes for a class I’m taking. In it, among other things, I make mention of critical hype and how it can ultimately damage a person’s film experience: You build up too much hype about how good (or bad) something is and you could end up giving someone else expectations that cannot possibly be met; this is the Detox Effect at work. With how much I was looking forward to today’s film after my last review, as well as how much talk I’ve seen involving this movie both on and offline, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was cautious.

The plot: After literally destroying the Hunger Games at the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been chosen by the resistance against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to be their symbol: The Mockingjay. While creating a counter-campaign against Snow, the President has also enlisted Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to be the spokesman for the Capitol. Amidst the battle of the P.R. campaigns, the rebels and the Capitol are preparing for civil war, one that will decide the fate of Panem.

As with the rest of the series, the acting is outstanding: Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress with her intense and emotional performance; Philip Seymour Hoffman shows great humour and intelligence in his portrayal of Plutarch, the head of the rebellion’s propaganda campaign, bringing to mind Robert De Niro’s character from Wag The Dog in his political manipulations; Donald Sutherland reaches new levels of creepy and intimidating here as President Snow; Sam Claflin, despite his role as Finnick being reduced, still does great as the cocky yet loyal ally; Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks continue to shine in their returning roles as Haymitch and Effie; and Jeffrey Wright does exceptionally as Beetee, the sarcastic tech wiz of the group.

We also get some newcomers such as Julianne Moore as President Coin, leader of the rebels, Natalie Dormer as Cressida, the director of the propaganda campaign, and Mahershala Ali as Boggs, one of Coin’s top soldiers. I have to give special mention to Ali’s performance because, despite Boggs mostly being a background character, he has that air of badass surrounding him that just sells it through and through. If there’s any slight I can make against the acting here, it’s that we didn’t get see more of Johanna in this one.

I would also like to make a slight addendum to my review of Catching Fire: I feel like I haven’t given nearly enough credit to Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and here is where I rectify that. Hutcherson has previously done very well in his role, having great chemistry with Lawrence as well as playing a very convincing spin doctor in building up his and Peeta’s initially false relationship. Here, however, he goes through the wringer. I won’t say exactly what happens for spoiler reasons, but needless to say the man gives it his all here and I am highly anticipating not only his performance in part two, but also in Escobar: Paradise Lost.

One of the main criticisms I’ve seen thrown at this movie is that it’s not as heavy on the action as the last two, and to be fair that is true. However, the story being told here and the way they tell it more than makes up for it. I made special mention last time of the great-looking computer effects in Catching Fire, but there is substantially less of that here. Instead, most of the effort seems to have gone into the set design and practical effects, both of which are very well done. The practical effects in particular, as seen in the locales of District 12 and District 8 where we get some seriously harrowing and stomach-churning visuals. As a whole, this plays out more like a political thriller than the action-adventure films we’ve been getting so far, but at least those films had this thread consistently running through them so this is in no way jarring.

If anything, not having as many action set pieces so that they can put more emphasis on the writing is a good thing because this is a very well-written script. It does start off with a couple of clunky metaphors (“You electrified the nation” and the like), but before too long it really kicks in with its depiction of the many shades of grey involved with war, specifically civil war, as well as a look into the filmmaking process through the filming for the Mockingjay campaign. There’s one scene where Katniss has to recite her lines for one of their promos, and the way it’s shown is almost like being a fly on the wall at an acting audition. We have Katniss and Peeta essentially being the poster children for their respective sides, and what’s fascinating is how what they’re both saying makes sense: Katniss is right in that Snow’s regime is bringing nothing but destruction, but Peeta is right in that the rebellion is leading to even more people dying as a result. Given the usual pedigree for YA adaptations we’ve been getting of late, having a conflict that is this far from one-sided is very refreshing.

Something else of major note here is the music. The series has had a very good score throughout, but it’s here that it transcends that into becoming something truly beautiful. Lawrence’s rendition of the Lumineers’ song The Hanging Tree has already made a big splash online, but within the context of the film proper is when it makes that transcendence. Again, I won’t spoil it completely, but needless to say that the scene surrounding it might be one of the most powerful cinematic moments of the year… and it is here that I begin to realise how hypocritical it was of me to start this review with how critical hype can ruin a movie for some people. Oops.

All in all, I don’t know how this is happening but this film series seems to be getting better and better with each instalment. While not as heavy on action as before, this decides to up the ante on its political undertones, transforming the already prevalent commentary on the cult of celebrity into one on iconography as a whole; all with a great cast to deliver it all. Aside from the lack of Johanna, the only real downside here is the year-long wait for the finale.

1 comment:

  1. Good review Mahan. Though I liked it for the most part, I still can't help but feel incredibly disappointed by how abrupt its ending was.