The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 continues with the compelling adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book trilogy with Jennifer Lawrence headlining as heroine Katniss Everdeen. A compelling 123-minute futuristic film with expanded dramatic situations and still largely bloodless action sequences.
This Lionsgate film, directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) continues the popular film series who shoots in digital format (no IMAX theatre release this time). Screenwriters Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (TV’s Game Change) and the talented crew glaze over semantics so they can continue forging characters that audiences can care about.
Jennifer Lawrence headlines this star-filled action drama as the strong female heroine Katniss Everdeen who is still willing to make extreme sacrifices for family and society in a very slighted world. Audiences also get shocking surprises, repeated scenery, and personal glimpses from the characters that all focus on a more starkly divided world.
Filmmakers keep the plot related to the Hunger Games even though audiences don’t get to experience that survival contest in this installment. Rebels get their chance to challenge the Capital government instead of waiting another 25 years for the next Quarter Quell.
This film forms a nice plot without losing any key aspects involving Panem’s 12 districts and the governing Capital where all their people live in rare privilege while the districts provide for them under hostile conditions.
One of the most interesting elements is how filmmakers show the assimilation of the Capital defectors to the rebellion side lead by Katniss. Audiences get snippets on the surface of the power struggles as existing characters pick up of the pieces of the Games’ end and solidify their alliances.
Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) also expands his romantic role as Gale Hawthorne as Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson is tragically removed from the rebel side. Gale and Katniss advance their relationship while victor Finnick Odair, played by British actor Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman) sheds some light on another important relationship.
Donald Sutherland turns into a sadistic military commander-in-chief as President Coriolanus Snow while pushing a “the Capitol is the heart” political strategy on the propaganda side. Snow’s granddaughter has some memorable lines in the previous film, but still has one key appearance with no dialogue reminding audiences of the high stakes. Emcee Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci aids his propaganda.
Jeffrey Wright returns as Beetee who adds crucial rebel support while filmmakers expand the adapted book’s role of Katniss’ previous personal manager Effie Trinket, played by Elizabeth Banks, who’s now changing her profession while still supporting her subject. Woody Harrelson also returns as Haymitch Abernathy who gets some of the few satirical moments in the film. Filmmakers honor to other past characters as well as a dedication to Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the end.
More than ten characters make their debut including President Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore; Boggs, played by Mahershala Ali (TV’s House of Cards), and Cressida, played by Natalie Dormer (TV’s Game of Thrones) who leads Katniss’ new supporting crew. These characters help support the story well and don’t get much character development, which leaves opportunities for future surprises for people who have not read the books.
The emotional and physical battles enhance with Francis Lawrence’s filming methods. He keeps the shots centered and low including some effective “top down” shots. The most memorable is a top down staircase shot where this talented director easily picks out what the audience needs to see.
The top-notch sound and music features songs by Lorde, Grace Jones, the Chemical Brothers, and even Jennifer Lawrence with a pivotal anthem for her followers.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 earns a solid recommendation (***) and will be followed by Part 2 on November 20, 2015, which will also star most cast members and be directed by Francis Lawrence.