20 December, 2014

#GAfilm Review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (***½)

Jennifer Lawrence stars in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"

With every fiber in my being, I believe in the power of a story. That’s why I made it my business to study them (UGA, English/Creative Writing); that’s why, since graduation, I’ve made it my business to work within them. That’s why I read and watch them. It’s all for the story. So when I first saw “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” I loved it. I loved it because I love Suzanne Collins’ source material. Well, not all of it, there were some parts that, honestly, I’d rather do without, I didn't particularly love the third book for example, but that’s not the point. Whether or not I like what happens isn’t the point. The story is the point. And, I think, Collins’ story remains true and honest and in this third act of this "Hunger Games" trilogy specifically, she paints a bold and unsubtle picture of modern day warfare. The film itself does a wonderful job reflecting those narratives. That being said, after allowing my love-at-first-sight impression of “Mockingjay – Part 1” to simmer and steam, I no longer love this film. I do, however, like it a whole lot.

If there’s one thing “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” (henceforth referred to as “Mockingjay”) does well (and I’ll soon contend that it does many things well), it very successfully builds the tension. It expertly lays the muddy and cumbersome and necessary groundwork for the November 2015 release of its likely-to-be severe and explosive-laden Part 2. The tenor and color palate of this film was far darker than the two that preceded it. In “Catching Fire,” the games were in the tropics; there were bright greens and blues and a vibrancy needled expertly throughout the entire film, down to the very last moments when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) brings down the games with a single, explosive arrow. Not really the case in “Mockingjay.” There’s a very real darkness here, and it’s a shift in mood that keeps through the entirety of the film. The score is hugely successful in enhancing this darkness. There’s a point in the film where Lawrence sings (her voice is great, by the way) a haunting song remembered from her childhood; and this song, “The Hanging Tree” whose sentiment echoes and vibrates throughout “Mockingjay.”

With a pure-heart and a strong-head, Katniss strives becomes our subversive heroine. She becomes what everyone wants her to be: the face of the revolution. At one point in the film, through a grimace and angry tears, Katniss boldly sneers at President Snow (the wonderfully menacing Donald Sutherland) and Capitol inhabitants: “If we burn, you burn with us.” And Lawrence, having spent three years developing and growing this character for the film adaptations, plays Katniss expertly. She’s emotional and emotive and tired and angry and sad and all of these things simultaneously; it’s not an easy job to be at the heart of a multi-multi-million dollar franchise, and I think Lawrence is perfectly fit for the part. It should be said that I, along with the rest of the world, am slightly in love with Jennifer Lawrence. She’s so (apparently) effortlessly honed and magnetically compelling and carries with her this undeniable and very raw natural quality. I mean, honestly, you can’t take your eyes off of her.

In this Francis Lawrence (no relation to the film’s megastar Jennifer) adaptation, we, as a collective audience, are on the receiving end of the horrors and cruelties of broadcasted propaganda. In “Mockinjay” there are even televised executions; it doesn’t get any more gruesome or obvious than that. There are vibrating consequences to a war in which the media plays a primary character. And it’s all very overtly relevant to our current political statuses, and in that sense, this movie is very, very adult. I don’t think any pre-teen will really grasp those resonances. The supporting characters do a fantastic job of adding a sort of adult authority that the series needs to succeed; it’s not longer just about the children. There are adult and mature consequences and decisions that need to be made. That’s where the presently sober Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and the far-less-glamorous-than-we’re-used-to Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Plutarch (the man to whom the film is dedicated, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the president of Panem and the brains behind the Capitol overthrow, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) come into play. It’s an astutely superb supporting cast.

What I did miss in this film is Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson). I missed his tall-for-only-being-five-foot-seven presence, and I think more than anything I missed the match-box chemistry shared between Peeta and Katniss. Peeta brings a softness, a lovely sincerity to the table, a rarity in every other hardened, brow-furrowing character. His presence highlights and magnifies the lighter and more tender side of Katniss, something that was very absent in this film. I think a lot of that has to do with his extremely effeminate and nurturing nature. And when we talk about Peeta, we’re forced, inevitably to talk about Gale. In the novels, I always understood Gale’s function; he was her provider, he would take care of her, he would take care of her family, he offered her stability… or at least the idea of it. But in the films, though Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is extremely easy on the eyes, he’s, at least to me, a very unessential character. I think the only thing he really does in the films is offer help define the love triangle. I imagine (well, having read the books, I know) he’ll have (or at least should have) a larger role in the final film of the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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