LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Last November, at the conclusion of "Catching Fire," the thrilling second installment in "The Hunger Games" trilogy based on the young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, audiences looked into the raging eyes of survivor Katniss Everdeen, looking to seek revenge on the evil force that placed her twice into the life-or-death Hunger Games. We couldn't wait for the story to continue.
One year later, we are now only fortunate enough to get part of the conclusion in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1," now playing in theaters nationwide.
The Hunger Games is the latest mega-novel turned film franchise that has fallen into the "final book mitosis," where the final edition in the series is (most often unnecessarily) split into two films. As a result, "Mockingjay" moves at a very different formula from its two high-paced predecessors. Katniss is not once more fighting in the games. She is instead fighting politics in this sometimes drawn yet overall effective film ballad of power, class, ally and enemy, which picks up both pace and drama as it progresses.
+ The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
+ Rated PG-13
+ 125 minutes
+ Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland
+ 3 stars out of 4
The film opens to Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), trembling in the darkness, under duress from having escaped the games, rescued by the Rebellion and now seeking refuge in the subterranean bunker of District 13, following the annihilation of her home of District 12. Those closest to her remain by her side, including her mother and sister and her friend/conflicted romantic interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson with notably limited-yet-effective screen time), Katniss' companion in the games, is held hostage in the Capitol under the authority of the ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Katniss is involuntarily introduced to the Rebellion, led by the icy President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), encouraged by Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated) to have the reluctant Katniss be the face of the Rebellion, using Katniss' personal story and spirit as their weapon to gain support in the districts against the Capitol. Like an homage to the propaganda of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany, Mockingjay has a deliberate message to fascism, which in today's human society seems to strike a relevant, effective mark.
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Traumatized by the games, Katniss agrees to play the role of the Mockingjay only if Coin agrees to save Peeta, whose loyalty is in question as Peeta is broadcast throughout the districts, presumed by Katniss with an obvious agenda, denouncing with Rebellion before irreversible violence erupts. Katniss has little choice but to place trust in President Coin, otherwise putting the fate of those she loves in jeopardy. With Gale by her side, and an audacious propaganda film crew following her every move, we are taken on the journey with Katniss as she sees the brutality of the Capital and her reluctance die in her internal flames to seek revenge on Snow.
"If we burn, you burn with us!" she so eloquently declares.
Lawrence once again lives up to Katniss' reputation of being "the girl on fire." Even in scenes that appear droll on paper, Lawrence delivers an engaging performance in her realism and vulnerability. This film reveals her to be at her most emotionally exhausted, and where she is at her most powerless. Unlike being in the games where she can rely on herself to make it out alive, in this political arena, she must rely on the faith of strangers to ultimately save the ones she loves. Yet as her strength of becoming the Mockingjay grows, those who surround her seem all the more likely to have their own agendas.
And though Lawrence is unquestionably the face of the franchise, the excellent supporting cast should not be overlooked. The film takes the additional run time to add emphasis to the characters in Katniss' world, which is fraught with distinguishing allies from enemies. The renowned Julianne Moore is the most notable edition to the series. She delivers a character that seeks to play a guardian-like figure to Katniss, yet with that comes unease and mistrust, as any youth viewing an adult they do not understand. And Phillip Seymour Hoffman engages and entertains as the once presumed enemy now turned ally that pushes Katniss to be the heroine he believes she is, as he says "Nobody can do this but her."
Woody Harrelson returns as the now sober yet still humorously belligerent Haymitch Abernathy. Elizabeth Banks conjures some needed humor as Effie Trinket going from riches to rags yet serving as Katniss' visual consultant. Finnick Oddair, played by Sam Claflin, shares Katniss' trauma of being a fellow survivor of the games and, too, having a loved one trapped in the Capitol. And Katniss' sister Prim (Willow Shields) graces the screen with an elevated presence, serving as the noble compass for Katniss to carry out her obligations as the face of the Rebellion. Even Prim's cat, the adorable red Buttercup, gets a nice boost in screen time.
Where the films lacks the high pace of Catching Fire, Mockingjay contributes an internal struggle into Katniss' character as a survivor now turned rebel and appointed heroine. Even when the story is considerably slower, Katniss' world can prove just as dangerous, especially with the harrowing climax of Katniss' and Peeta's fateful reunion. This final epic note will inevitably leave audiences with an intense desire to know what happens next, which will only be met with an equally intense aggravation when they see the closing credits roll far sooner than what they had wished.
Mockingjay is not a complete film, hence the title nor does it provide any real closure for any of the characters that we have come to know. That will come when "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" blazes into theaters one year from now. It is a frustrating wait, yet fans of both the books and the films can only remain optimistic that director Francis Lawrence and heroine Jennifer Lawrence will make the much anticipated conclusion to "The Hunger Games" franchise well worth the wait.