Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland
In the lead up to the third instalment of the Hunger Games franchise being released, many fans and critics were rightfully sceptical about how well the film would work, bearing in mind it was, essentially, only half a film, with the film-makers having chosen to split the trilogy’s final book in half.
With this in mind, there was a lot of trepidation as the screen went dark and the lights went down. Thankfully, and almost triumphantly, when the credits rolled after the two hour runtime I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, this is undoubtedly the best film of the series so far and is the perfect penultimate film for the tri…quadrilogy.
Sombre, dark and distressing – not your typical winning combination for a blockbuster set of films. But that’s exactly what Mockingjay is. This film captures the gritty and disturbing nature of media manipulation, lack of democracy and post-traumatic suffering. Or, rather, the trauma of suffering. These characters never get a break, none more so than the girl on fire, Katniss Everdeen, who struggles throughout to reconcile her role as Panem’s saviour and spark for the violent revolution. As long as her flame continues to burn, so too will the rebels’ uprising. As long as District 13, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, can keep Katniss in line and her rage fuelled, they can keep the insurgent momentum going.
It would be easy to claim that Jennifer Lawrence is predictably good, but that is far too dismissive. Lawrence brings the perfect amount of vulnerability, strength, naiveté and world-weariness to the role. It’s hard to think of another actress of her generation who can convey such a range of emotions in a single close-up shot. Or in her lilting, softly resonant singing voice on the ‘Hanging Tree’ track available to listen to online.
It isn’t just Lawrence though who brings her A game: Josh Hutcherson is the best he’s ever been. Peeta is not the same boy that tried to win Katniss’s heart in the first film; he has been changed by his torturous experiences, perhaps irrevocably. Donald Sutherland continues to shine as the villainous President Snow; in every scene he’s in, his grin and icy gaze make you want to stay as far away from him as possible. If he can’t own the world, then he’s happy to just watch it burn.
In what was personally my most anticipated bit of casting, Julianne Moore is spot on as District 13’s leader President Coin, and I can’t wait to see how her relationship with Katniss develops in the next film. Possibly one of the most important characters in this film is Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, the catalyst for Katniss’s actions throughout the series. In Mockingjay Prim gives Katniss hope, helps rationalise her decisions and continues to show compassion and courage in a world of opportunistic egos and cunning deceivers.
With the film’s harrowing final scene, which won’t be revealed here, you can tell precisely how director Francis Lawrence wants these films remembered. Not as action films with beautiful leads, paper-thin plot and forgettable, cheerful pay-offs, but as stimulating drama with scarred, vulnerable and broken characters. Their world is a dystopia, and like all classic dystopian lands, there’s a great possibility that the heroes won’t actually win – in fact, they may not even survive.
This may not include all the dramatic, important set pieces that fans of the book are so eagerly anticipating, and it certainly is slow-moving in the first hour, but in no way is the audience dragged kicking and screaming through this penultimate effort; it is not a disruptive obstacle to climb in order to reach the conclusion. This may be an alternative view held by few other critics, but I think that this film is a necessary inclusion in the series. It saves a potentially stand-alone, action-packed genre film by providing more depth to its characters and sparing more time for its world-building, which will end up making its last hours all the sweeter and, probably, even more devastating.