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‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ Shouldn’t Have Been Split in Two

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – My issue with the “one movie split into two parts” debate isn’t even about money, which is clearly the main reason why we’ve seen blockbuster films do it like the two-part “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and now the two-part “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”.

My beef is the resulting two-hour film that doesn’t have nearly enough meat to even make it to the end of part one because it’s unnaturally stretched out. The film even awkwardly ends in a splice that should wrap itself up now without making fans pay again a year from now.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”.
Image credit: Murray Close

Anyone who has read these best-selling books by Suzanne Collins knows the source material for this film is weak. A instant complaint with this film is that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” no longer has, you know, The Hunger Games going on. Sure, there’s a new story to take its place, but it drags out, limps along and fails to captivate with complicated emotional drama. The film’s previous successes came through action, suspense, a love story and the thrill of the sport.

While financially the two-part split will pay off, that doesn’t mean it should have been done at the expense of the film’s contextual demise. A great film is great whether it’s one or two parts, but a weak film split into two for no creative advantage only results in a disappointing artistic decision ruled by greed.

Without the games to glaze our eyes over, “Mockingjay: Part 1” only has the longing between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to try to win our hearts and make us think. But even their story relies on supporting characters to fill the space between them. Katniss is now protected by and fighting for District 13 among the rebellion while Peeta is brainwashed and bathed in gold by their oppressors in the Capitol.

Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Josh Hutcherson stars as Peeta Mellark in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”.
Image credit: Murray Close

Their love tries bringing them together, but the Romeo and Juliet story grows tiresome due to the unnatural focus on Katniss. District 13 needs a “Mockingjay” to be a propaganda symbol of hope and fighting back against the Capitol. In this Holocaust-esque environment, she refuses to live with their tyranny and is supposed to inspire an army of others to follow.

But this film feels like there’s no reason why she’s the one – as so many films are addicted with selecting one person to be the center of the universe – and the Mockingjay could have been anyone else.

Especially if you haven’t seen the previous two films or read the novels, this movie gives no reason why Katniss should be as important as she is. The film desperately wants you rally behind someone, but I need to be shown why. Katniss convinces Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in one scene that she’s the one, but she doesn’t convince us.

I did appreciate one element of her character evolution, though, as she’s becoming the Mockingjay. When initially making the decision due to her desperation to get back to Peeta, she’s a terribly inauthentic propaganda actress and she intentionally does the job poorly.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Phillip Seymour Hoffman stars as Plutarch Heavensbee in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”.
Image credit: Murray Close

But it takes a real act of cruelty and murder by the Capitol to capture a Katniss message that shows true pain, suffering and an authentic reason to fight. Wrapped within this otherwise not-much-going-on story, I did momentarily believe her plot progression into a leader people could perhaps get behind.

But the many failures in this film overall greatly outweigh the successes, which come few and far between. As is becoming a trend with many Hollywood blockbusters, once again a few supporting roles greatly outshine the intended stars.

Even setting aside the empathy of missing the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who left us much too early, his role is tactical, memorable and enjoyable like only he can be. He’s the calculated man behind the woman who sets the action in motion and takes none of the glory.

Natalie Dormer in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Natalie Dormer stars as Cressida in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”.
Image credit: Murray Close

I knew I wouldn’t get enough new screen time in this film with this man, who has been one of my favorite actors in Hollywood today (and probably yours). But everything we do get from him is time well spent within a story that just can’t sustain itself for two hours.

Likewise, Woody Harrelson as the typically drunk and kooky Haymitch brought new life to his fun role as yet another man in the shadows of Katniss who helps her become everyone’s inspiring girl on fire. And Elizabeth Banks as the typically glamorous diva Effie is also appreciated in the new light of a dressed-down, standardized uniform while grand fashion usually courses through her veins.

Effie is yet another curator of the Katniss machine, which wouldn’t run without a lot of help from all her friends. Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin by far gets the film’s worst mark for acting as she plays the cold leader of the rebellion with no emotion but also no character arc.

All in all, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” falls victims to the most shameless act of splitting itself into two for all the wrong reasons. The film anti-climatically puts us through the hurry-up-and-wait wringer while leaving us asking: “For what?”

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone and Sam Claflin from director Francis Lawrence and writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong. The film, which is 123 minutes, is rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material. It opened wide on Nov. 21, 2014.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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