Movie Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' (2014)

The depressing and sorrowful story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) continues in this maudlin three-quel. Picturing a bigger downer as an intro for a movie is hard to do. Within the first few minutes a character wishes everyone were dead as Katniss writhes in tears shouting at anyone who will listen about the events of the previous movie.

The story picks up right after “Catching Fire” with Katniss having been moved to the rebel headquarters of District 13. Safe and reunited with her mother and Prim, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) introduces her to President Coin (Julianne Moore) and works to recruit her as the Mockingjay, better known as the face of the District 13 movement.

The rest of the movie consists of Katniss struggling with her identity as the reluctant Mockingjay as she engages in propaganda pieces. In case there is any confusion, Katniss doesn’t want the mantle of greatness, it is simply thrust upon her.

She is transparently disinterested in being a symbol of hope, justice or anything else, so how anyone would feel comforted or life affirmed with a visit from the visibly distraught Miss Everdeen is next to impossible to fathom.

She lacks the inner fortitude, energy or zeal of a leader capable of sparking people to action. It’s this crucial aspect of the movie that makes the whole story fall apart. If Katniss were fighting bad guys with Kleenex she might have a shot, otherwise she’d be out of luck.

Francis Lawrence’s direction maintains a slow and steady pace that makes its abrupt conclusion all the more jilting as a result. What exactly the point is of this bridge sequel it is not apparent. There’s nothing cinematic in nature for this particular narrative and there are few developments that move the story forward. There is only defeat, hopelessness and agony for all involved.

We have heard it all before and in other movies, it sounded much better. Where a film like “Equilibrium” succeeded in portraying a brutal totalitarian government, conveying the plight of its citizens and creating a flawed hero worth rooting for to staggering effect; “Mockingjay” fails.

As Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is stilted, exhibiting bursts of emotion that strike with blunt ambivalence and barren texture. Philip Seymour Hoffman on the other hand delivers a splendidly nuanced and assured performance that broadcasts more than the script gives him the opportunity to say.

In his hands, Plutarch is a seemingly well-intentioned puppet master with a dangerous edge and a silver tongue. Offering the most intriguing characterization of the entire series, Hoffman easily elevates the overall quality of the movie. Likewise, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore turn in measured performances that are dazzlingly understated, while accented with an underlying vigor.

Of its redeeming qualities, “Mockingjay” offers a sort of rumination on celebrity and how a star can bring hope to the public. Boosting morale is one of the powers they posses, a positive aspect that comes with the strange phenomena of fame. Katniss is clearly hesitant to embrace it and while some might view that as noble, here it comes off as pretentious.

It’s the least she can do for the people around her and quite frankly, it isn’t that much of a sacrifice. The only thing that would explain her unenthusiastic conduct is if she doubted what she’s fighting for is truly the right position. However, there is no indication that she does nor is there any evidence that she should. It’s all quite cagey.

With one installment left, Part 1 doesn’t incite excitement for the final chapter. Instead it draws a feeling of dread for what’s to come. Humorless and devoid of any feel good moments, Part 1 is a composite of tragedies that never lets up and spotting the light at the end of the tunnel is a strenuous endeavor. Then again the simple answer might just be, there is little light to be seen. Rating 5/10