Director Francis Lawrence had a real challenge bringing Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay to the big screen. Sure, he had the luxury of knowing he would have two parts cinematically -- Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2.
But the first half of the book is so cerebral and political while its heroine -- Katniss -- spends much of that part of the final novel suffering from PTSD. How on Earth could that first half of Collins’ book make for a good movie?
Well, let us congratulate the helmer because he has crafted a wildly entertaining, thrilling and emotionally riveting first half conclusion to The Hunger Games saga.
The action begins with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having a truly terrifying time recovering from her experiences from the two Hunger Games. We learn that she is in District 13 and there exists the rebellion that seeks to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland, as slippery and sinister as ever) and his Capitol government that is ruling Panem with an iron fist.
Katniss cannot sleep. She is having nightmares. She can’t adjust to her non-Hunger Games life. But, thankfully, her mother and sister are there, rescued from District 12 when it was decimated (as seen in this Mockingjay Part 1 clip) as payback for what Katniss did at the end of the movie you can see when you watch Catching Fire online.
Our heroine is brought to President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Katniss is consoled for what she has gone through, but is pressed that this resistance needs a face, a lightning rod, and whether she likes it or not -- she is it. But, Katniss has one thing on her mind: They left Peeta behind. Is he dead? Is he alive? Or is his fate even worse than death?
As teased in that final Mockingjay Part 1 trailer, Francis Lawrence’s film has an utterly different feel and tone than the first two The Hunger Games movies. It is now a war film, with a political thriller interwoven throughout. This is still a chess game, but it is elevated and the costs are much higher.
The director handles this adjustment effortlessly, and through his set-up (which is really what Mockingjay Part 1 is) for Mockingjay Part 2, we firmly see the world as it is now and how there are truly only two roads left for Katniss and her ilk -- revolution or assured death.
The trick here -- and it's largely a huge part of the mystery of the first act and some of the second -- is which direction Katniss will choose.
Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 before, audiences need to know that they will be treated to a film that is, yes, self-contained, but is also part of something much bigger. It will end in a way that feels sudden as we wait a year until the concluding cinematic chapter.
But, it will also come to a close on a note that will have you stuck in your seat, shell-shocked at what has just happened.
Francis Lawrence and the entire The Hunger Games world has something truly special going for it, beyond fabulous source material from Collins. It has an acting cadre of supreme talent that brings these characters to life and makes what could be a simple YA adaptation feel like something a whole lot more epic.
Jennifer Lawrence shows off her Oscar-winning gifts as a whole new Katniss. This is not the self-sacrificing girl who volunteered to save her sister in the first film. This isn’t even the Katniss who rode into the second Hunger Games with confidence and a huge amount of confusion as to which of her two love interests she would choose.
The Oscar winner finds depths in her performance that are simultaneously tragic, heartbreaking and, yes, inspiring. This is truly a Mockingjay rising moment.
Then, there’s the cast that surrounds her. Having Moore as President Coin is a stroke of casting genius. She is commanding and compassionate, but don’t kid yourself… this is a woman who keenly has her eyes on the prize. And Katniss knows it, and through the twin towers of talent that are Jennifer Lawrence and Moore, their interchanges are electric and enigmatic.
And lastly, our Mockingjay Part 1 review concludes that the film arrives with a touch of sadness. Yes, this is the second-to-last The Hunger Games movie we will ever get.
But, mostly, this is one of the last times we will see Hoffman on the screen. He has taken his character from a Snow associate in Catching Fire to a political communications expert for President Coin that is savvy, cunning, but too has his own eyes on the prize.
See, everyone in this world has their own agenda. What is so fascinating about Mockingjay Part 1 is, even when Lorde’s Yellow Flicker Beat plays and the credits roll, we’re not sure what they are.
Is it 2015 yet?