THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1. As cold as last year's Catching Fire left me, of course I thought I'd enjoy this more. But as a heretofore-unrecognized wellspring of misplaced optimism, I was caught off guard. Mockingjay - Part 1 seemed like it would at least be exciting and grand, even if I couldn't fully support the story or its themes. Turns out I was half right: I still can't get into the story or its themes.
Part 1 picks up shortly after the dramatic events that concluded Catching Fire. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is once again traumatized by the violence she has both witnessed and wrought. She's being kept under secure observation in District 13, following escalated genocidal attacks by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). District 13, populated primarily by warriors, has become the seat of the steadily rising revolution in Panem. From their subterranean bunker, people's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and de facto Minister of Propaganda Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have been hard at work, planning their next move against the Capitol. Unsurprisingly, Katniss is their primary weapon in the war for the hearts and minds of the people of Panem. They intend to recast her as The Mockingjay (cue dramatic music) — the resistance personified. She's reluctant at first but, Katniss being Katniss, she just can't help but shoulder the responsibility. Accompanied by a camera crew, she sets out on a publicity tour of the worst ravaged districts. Meanwhile, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), captive in the Capitol, has become Katniss' PR foil. Interviewed at length by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), his responses skew increasingly in favor of President Snow and against the resistance. Katniss fears for Peeta's life, convinced that he is being controlled by nefarious means. She's so worried about him that she all but ignores stoic young Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), who is quite in love with her.
Plot-wise, this feels like about half a movie, which in reality it is. Once again, the money-counters have strategically split the final book in a young-adult series into two features in order to wring every last dollar out of an unwitting audience. This might be tolerable, were there enough action or story to sustain two movies; there just isn't. The first half of Part 1 drags along like an austere rehash of Catching Fire, with Katniss going through the same motions, albeit even more exhaustedly. And where I thought I could count on Lawrence's spirit and compassionate vivacity in the lead role, she seems washed out and distant. This is probably a choice on her part and on the part of returning director Francis Lawrence, but the effect works against its intent. Rather than reinforcing that Katniss' experiences have traumatized and shocked her, Lawrence's performance makes the character seem alternately aloof and inscrutable — at least until she erupts into hysterics, at which point she actually started to win me back a little.
Although director Lawrence's style is intentional and convincingly atmospheric — thanks in no small part to an astronomical production design budget — the visual rhythm of the movie is too often broken by forced speechifying and forlorn gazing. Too often it is telling rather than showing, often literally, with characters delivering overlong monologues into camera.
For all its positive attributes, most of which are expensive, technical ones, Part 1 misses the mark when it comes to the basics. The lead performance feels a little off and the script is wordy and padded-out, lacking sufficient action to stay interesting. Which is a pity, because there are some well-executed, exciting sequences late in the movie. But my attention had been so drained by that point that it was difficult to muster any enthusiasm.
In an effort to close on a positive note, I'll say that Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, Rush) does a lot with the relatively minor part of Cressida, the director of Katniss' ever-growing catalog of propaganda videos. PG13. 116m
— John J. Bennett
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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill