The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
With seven out of the eleven remaining districts revolting against the Capitol, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), it is most critical, according President Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of the rebellion, that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) embraces her role as the prime symbol of the uprising. But with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) presumably dead and the post-traumatic stress of having to kill innocent people for two consecutive years looming overhead, Katniss may neither be willing nor ready to help take down the Capitol’s totalitarian regime.
Like David Yates’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” and Bill Condon’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” a question worth answering is whether the material, based on the novel “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins, is necessary to be split into two. The answer is not a resounding “Yes!” but a case can be argued that this approach for this film does make room for details that otherwise might have been lost. This is an example of delayed gratification and it is severely under appreciated especially if what we come to expect is rousing action scenes.
First of these details is the emphasis on the escalation of war. This makes the first half particularly powerful because we see entire communities in raggedy clothes, bloodied, exhausted, with nothing left to lose except for their lives. We see the wreckage of infrastructures and burnt bodies underneath and amongst the rubble. The camera is not afraid to show the wounds, the trauma in people’s eyes, corpses wrapped in sheets. There is talk of a mass grave in District 8.
Another point the picture conveys successfully is Katniss being just another pawn. Although the oppressed have embraced her as the symbol of the revolution, she is also just meat to be placed in front of the camera and she must do what she is told. Despite being the most grim entry of series so far, there is room for humor in Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s screenplay, particularly the scene in which our protagonist is filming propaganda to feed to the masses. Though she knows the script word-for-word, the feelings or emotions required to make an impact are simply not there. She is meat without flavor and that won’t do.
The Achilles heel of this installment is its curious lack of character development when it comes to Snow and Coin. Already three movies in, there is no good reason for us to not understand Snow completely. While we know he enjoys having power and the amenities that come with it, there must be something more to him than looking stern and trying to keep his frustrations under wraps when things do not go his way.
We also do not learn much about Coin. We observe that she is right to the point when delivering speeches and there is room for compromise behind her leadership, but what does this uprising really mean to her? Because her more private motivations are so vague, there is an undercurrent that maybe we are not supposed to trust her. Both characters are solidly played by Sutherland and Moore but I wished they had been challenged to do more.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is accused for not having enough payoff. I agree—to an extent. For many, payoff in sci-fi dystopian future action-dramas goes hand-in-hand with deaths of characters we have grown to like or love. But for some, payoff means scenes that we take with us, those we are able to remember vividly after the picture ends. For me, there are three: a visit to a hospital, a surprise in the forest, and a destruction of a dam.