Review: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay: Part 1 (2014, Francis Lawrence)

Jennifer-Lawrence-In-The-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Part-1-ImagesThe first instalment of Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is definitely the most mature film in the entire series so far. The Hunger Games is lucky to have both a technical director with a great eye of making his Mockingjay (Jennifer Lawrence) shine because this franchise has a rare quality to it that doesn’t only make it the best Young Adult inspired series around today, but also lets the series grow and improve as every film is made and released. I thoroughly enjoyed 2012’s The Hunger Games directed by Gary Ross, but when Francis Lawrence took the helm in last year’s Catching Fire, it was hard to imagine the series recreating the spark and peak of that particular sequel. I am dumbfounded by Mockingjay, because it proved once again that blockbusters (with the initial goal to make money) can be full of substance, great cinematic images, fun performances and a thrilling time in the cinema.

Following shortly after Katniss Everdeen’s destruction of the arena in last year’s Quarter Quell, we are quickly pushed into the world of District 13, the underground rebel forces who have bigger plans for our heroin. Katniss must now step up and lead the people against the Capitol in war. But her feelings are mixed and thoroughly pushed around when she learns that the Capitol has a secret weapon of their own. Though Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t able to achieve the same emotional forces that made Katniss one of the best female characters of last year, she continues her star power and charisma as the film’s central lead and one and only Mockingjay. This woman can achieve no wrongs in this role, she captured Katniss’ complexities and adversities with such perfection that it’s hard to resist her natural presence and glow through the silver screen. It’s a perfect part for her, and she never really phones it in.

The production design and costumes that Francis Lawrence has put around his film has improved the technical qualities of the entire series all the together. The war torn world of Panem, the underground layer of the secret rebels, and the opulence of the Capitol is vividly shown with great production value. Surprisingly, the editing flourished keeping you at the edge of your seat during the last quarter of the film. The feeling is sensational and the action (though not so “in your face” like the bloody matches between the Tributes in the first two films) is just as gritty and exciting as ever! Cinematographer Jo Williems gets an opportunity to play with light and photography that just adds another element to making the world of Katniss come to life.

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The rest of the ensemble cast is worthy of note. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman could have done this in his sleep. His smart Plutarch is a great presence, but so was the actor. He was equally matched by the sensational Julianne Moore playing President Coin, in one of her quietest roles. But take note, she was very good. This is how an A-list actress should be taking on YA films without looking ridiculous (I’m talking to you Kate Winslet in Divergent, and even worse Meryl Streep in that other one that I don’t even recall). Elizabeth Banks was as charming as ever, and I’m glad they’ve expanded her role for the film. Sam Clafin does well with a limited role. But the surprising MVP, after Lawrence is Josh Hutcherson who never really impressed me in the previous films.

Josh Hutcherson whose Peeta role was never the loud performance was surprisingly very good. He continues to improve after every film though his screen time becomes less and less. He makes do with what he has, and begins to use his eyes as a weapon of connection to the audience who ponders the mystery of Peeta’s actions. His last few minutes were extremely memorable, and I wish they expanded it a little bit more just so we can see that part of the character develop because it was real meaty stuff for an actor to play with.

Now the big question remains: should the filmmakers have just made it one film? The answer is, yes. To me Mockingjay was the slowest book and my least favourite from the series. Everything could have easily fit inside the running time the movie had to offer. The first hour of the film was incredibly slow burning and could have been cut down, but all becomes worth it when you reach the thrilling half way mark and the even more exciting climax of the film. Now the other question: did I mind that they split the novel into two? No. This is because I am a fan, and Francis Lawrence and his talented team is doing things right (I’m sure other Hunger Games fans will be incredibly pleased with the results). This sets up the finale of this series so well that it’s hard not to get disappointed with what may come next. I guess we have to wait and see till next year.

RATING: 8.5-9/10 (I haven’t decided yet, I’ll sleep on it!)

Thank you so much to the wonderful NuffNang Philippines and NESCAFE Cappuccino PH for making this screening happen! It was a wonderful experience, and NESCAFE’s new Cappuccino products are seriously to die for! 

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