The Hunger Games: Mock­ing­jay, Part One

J- Law plays war games

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Rated / Cinema -

Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

12A | 123 min­utes Di­rec­tor: Fran­cis Lawrence Cast: Jen­nifer Lawrence, Josh Hutch­er­son, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Har­rel­son, El­iz­a­beth Banks, Ju­lianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoff­man

As dis­tricts are

dev­as­tated above ground, other strug­gles rage un­der­ground. We’re not just talk­ing Woody Har­rel­son’s strag­gly Games vet Haymitch Aber­nathy’s prob­lems with “pro­hi­bi­tion”, ei­ther. With her role beefed up from Suzanne Collins’s third and fi­nal Hunger Games novel, how can El­iz­a­beth Banks’s fu­ture fash­ion grotesque Effie Trin­ket hope to look ab fab in a rebel hold- out with se­ri­ous wardrobe is­sues?

Given Effie’s egre­gious sit­u­a­tion, it’s a won­der she looks as pre­sentable as she does. And for Effie, read Mock­ing­jay, Part One. Even with the odds against him, re­turn­ing di­rec­tor Fran­cis Lawrence joins sturdy-

Jen­nifer Lawrence tugs us into Kat­niss’s fraught hu­man­ity, in­vok­ing mem­o­ries of Ri­p­ley

handed writ­ers Peter Craig ( The Town) and Danny Strong ( The But­ler) to mount a rich, punchy, well- paced treat­ment of a tricky novel: an un­likely vic­tory com­pa­ra­ble to felling hov­er­planes with ar­rows. After all, the out­come was never cer­tain. If Gary Ross’s first Hunger Games flick ben­e­fit­ted from lung­ing fast into the arena, Catch­ing Fire re­peated the trick and proved it stood re­peat­ing. Now that Kat­niss Everdeen’s re­volt at Fire’s cli­max has pushed the fu­ture dis­tricts into a cli­mate of un­rest, coun­tered by state op­pres­sion, there are no games to play but po­lit­i­cal ones. This time, it’s war? Yes, but for un­wary view­ers ex­pect­ing the fun stuff of bonkers ba­boons ter­ror­is­ing teenagers it could just be a bore.

The is­sue of di­vi­sion is equally sticky. Tack­ling an al­ready di­vi­sive novel with the di­vi­sive decision ( see The Hob­bit, Deathly Hal­lows) to di­vide it into two movies, the third and fourth Games films raise a ques­tion: how many di­vi­sions can a story take with­out col­laps­ing?

But Part One holds up, mostly, with Jen­nifer Lawrence do­ing some proper heavy lifting. On the page Kat­niss ini­tially lacks her old spark, a point flagged on screen by Dis­trict 13 pres­i­dent- turned- rebel Alma Coin ( Ju­lianne Moore) when she tells rebel- leader Plutarch Heav­ens­bee ( Philip Seymour Hoff­man), “This is not the girl that you de­scribe.” As Plutarch and Coin slowly co­erce Kat­niss into be­com­ing a sym­bol for re­volt against the ven­omous Pres­i­dent Snow’s ( Don­ald Suther­land) deca­dent Capi­tol, the plot rests less on scraps than strat­egy; less on ac­tion than de­bates about how to start the ac­tion; and less on Kat­niss than the ab­sence of the girl on fire. With heavy doses of re­cap and semi- meta stuff about mak­ing pro­pa­ganda movies stacked on top, the fo­cus shift threat­ens to dis­tance view­ers.

But J- Law tugs us into Kat­niss’s fraught hu­man­ity, in­vok­ing mem­o­ries of Aliens’ har­rowed Ri­p­ley as she wakes from trou­bled sleep in Dis­trict 13’ s rebel base. ( And yes, the ginger cat is here.) Th­ese lay­ers of trep­i­da­tion firm up Kat­niss’s po­si­tion as a re­luc­tant hero we can en­gage with, not a su­per­hero: qual­i­ties rare enough in some adult fic­tion, let alone young adult fic­tion.

Di­rec­tor Fran­cis Lawrence pushes YA bound­aries as Kat­niss vis­its dis­tricts dec­i­mated by Snow’s army, where streets spill with skulls. When Kat­niss, Gale ( Liam Hemsworth) and a rag- tag pro­pa­ganda film crew ex­plore the dev­as­tated Dis­trict 8, a makeshift hos­pi­tal oozes with what cen­sors like to call “in­jury de­tail”. If the rev­er­ence for Kat­niss among the wounded verges on cheesy, the war- zone images and ear- bash­ing hov­er­plane at­tacks im­bue Kat­niss’s sub­se­quent speech with a sense of po­tency. As she “be­comes” Kat­niss again here, Lawrence steers her fear and rage into air- punch­ing “Get away from her, you bitch!” ter­rain.

If one par­tic­u­lar Dis­trict 8 atroc­ity seems torn from to­day’s head­lines, the rebel de­bates about how to use the me­dia as a weapon are equally, achingly of the now. But Mock­ing­jay isn’t a course in Ad­vanced Me­dia Know- how: the two- part split pro­vides the el­bow room needed to flesh out a boosted character count. In his last bow, Seymour Hoff­man in­vests Plutarch with weath­ered heft. Ju­di­ciously ex­pand­ing the novel beyond Kat­niss’s per­spec­tive, added Coin- age ben­e­fits from Ju­lianne Moore’s au­thor­i­ta­tive de­liv­ery. Good, no- non­sense groundlevel support comes from Natalie Dormer’s Cres­sida, sort of Kate Adie with face tats.

Less suc­cess­ful is the decision to boost Effie’s role: like Derek Zoolan­der gate- crash­ing Fury to pimp a tank, she light­ens the tone but draws snig­gers. The vote’s still out ( and prob­a­bly out for good) on the over­all nar­ra­tive value of Gale’s charisma vac­uum, though less is more for Josh Hutch­er­son’s Peeta. Seen largely through am­bigu­ous TV broad­casts, his arc ranges smartly from turn­coat in­ter­views with Stan­ley Tucci’s Capi­tol creep Cae­sar to wellad­min­is­tered shocks.

Even with the pace- damp­en­ing bur­den of time spent on Kat­niss vis­it­ing old haunts, Fran­cis Lawrence makes up for the arena’s ab­sence with punch- pack­ing ac­tion jolts. The rebel as­sault on a dam is

Lord Of The Rings- sized. Later, a tense night- time raid on the Capi­tol suc­cess­fully splices sprawl­ing ef­fects work with ground­ing war- movie grit.

Th­ese beefed- up ac­tion beats are well in­te­grated with Kat­niss’s view­point, es­pe­cially when the Capi­tol in­cur­sion runs par­al­lel to a tense vid- screen stand- off be­tween two key ver­bal com­bat­ants. That poised weight­ing holds un­til the cli­mac­tic cliffhanger, a bet­ter- paced send- off than the sud­den drop that closed The Des­o­la­tion Of Smaug.

Fran­cis Lawrence faces more tri­als tack­ling Collins’s rushed fi­nale in Part Two, but the two- film split could give him vi­tal air, as­sum­ing he doesn’t go all Re­turn Of The King on us. “I’m op­ti­mistic,” shrugs Plutarch at one point, fac­ing a new dread. On the strength of this gutsy, con­sid­ered rewrite of the Games’ rules, there’s rea­son to be.

Kevin Har­ley Bat­tle scenes were shot at a French apart­ment com­plex called Les Es­paces d’Abraxas, which was also used in Brazil.

There’s no trou­ble with­out rub­ble.

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