To review “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is to undertake an exercise in futility.
No one’s undecided at this point, so you can’t convince a reader to attend or stay home. People who haven’t seen the first two have no interest in a review and no hope of following the narrative. The only useful question is, “Does it attain the same quality level as the first two?” (Yes, though it takes a new approach.)
So instead of a pointless recitation of plot or assessment of actors, most of whom appeared in the first and/or second pictures, I offer impressions:
This installment substitutes psychological action for physical thrills. The half-story filmed by director Francis Lawrence ends in midair, so he and writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong focus on Katniss’ attitude, not her archery. Jennifer Lawrence carries the emotional burden, as she decides whether to become rebel icon Mockingjay and copes with the destruction of her district.
The writers restore balance between loyal Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and ambiguous Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has apparently become a mouthpiece for sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland). We can imagine either of them winning Katniss’ love, depending on what happens in the final battle.
Fayetteville-born Julianne Moore has the most important new role as rebel president Alma Coin. She’s single-minded, smart and a little scary in her cold-blooded efficiency. And her name means “Soul Money” – the sign of a Judas? (Speaking of Carolina natives, Patina Miller of Pageland, S.C. – best known for her Tony-winning role in “Pippin” – has a small role as a rebel leader.)
The two parts of “Mockingjay” will apparently be the last big-screen outings for Philip Seymour Hoffman. He doesn’t get a chance to show all he can do, but he steps up his game from the bland performance in “Catching Fire.” In fact, older actors all add value, notably Jeffrey Wright as an electronics wizard.
Cinematographer Jo Willems restricts his palette mainly to the steel blue of machinery, the gray of piles of rubble and the drab colors of rebel gear. So when he changes the look of the film, filling a field with white roses or shooting an orange blaze, the colors pop.
The movie has one of the few memorable songs I’ve heard onscreen this year, a ballad croaked passably by Lawrence that swells beautifully when a huge choir takes over. (It’s nice to find something she can’t do well.)
Unlike the first “Hunger Games” movie, which was made in North Carolina, the following three were shot mostly in Georgia, Hawaii and overseas. You can partly thank our failed film incentives legislation for that.