Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.

Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.

In times of conflict, sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s right so much as it matters who tells the best story. The actions taken could be justified or completely immoral, but could still be supported by the population at war if the powers that be frame their decisions the right way. Find the right icon and the right message? We will sacrifice our most precious gifts until the last enemy falls. The problem is that only some of the time is the story being told a story that is meant for the greater good. So how are we supposed to know which stories to believe, especially when so few storytellers know how their tale will end?

Sometimes a blockbuster comes along and delivers a script that is far more interesting that it has any right being. It’s becoming more and more of a rarity these days as many studios are treating scripts as an excuse to keep on CGI character battling another.

Beginning a short time after the events of CATCHING FIRE, MOCKINGJAY pt. 1 finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) far below ground in District 13, long ago thought to have been destroyed by The Capitol as punishment for an insurrection. Here, Katniss has reunited with her mother, sister, and dear friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

While obviously struggling with a great deal of PTSD, she is approached by former Gamesmaster, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to join a reorganized rebellion against The Capitol. Against her wishes, she is brought to the leader of the opposition, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), and proposed as “The Mockingjay” – a symbol of defiance that the entire country of Panem can rally behind. However, Katniss is skeptical.

The first problem is that The Capitol still has Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as their prisoner. As much as her feelings for him were once feigned, it’s clear that Katniss now struggles with the fact that she escaped the games arena and he did not. What’s more, Peeta keeps showing up on state television denouncing his involvement in the uprising, and Katniss’ involvement too.

This inner conflict prompts Katniss to accept the role in the rebellion, in exchange for clemency for those she sees as prisoners of war.

So it is that Rebellion soldiers like Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and Boggs (MaherShala Ali) sheppard Katniss and Gale from pillar to post trying to catch the right rallying cry on-film. However, the closer Katniss & Co seem to get to The Capitol, the more dangerous the rebellion seems to become.

 

Woody Harrelson in Mockingjay

 

In some ways, it seems as though this is the talkiest Hunger Games entry yet. While there are some really well-executed action scenes, they are few and fare between. Instead, what permeates this film is planning and speaking. We watch attacks get planned, and counterattacks get planned. We listen to public statements, and then see those statements resoundingly rebuked by the other side. Back and forth…over and over…an intellectual battle for hearts and minds.

What this does is give The Panem Rebellion some true gravitas and make it evocative of the world we inhabit.

Whether we like it or not, our leaders rely heavily on propaganda to get us on their side. This can be achieved by working a soundbite into every interview, by rallying people under a banner, or by anointing someone as a folk hero for the cause. None of this has to be accurate or true mind you, it only has to be galvanizing. It has to be clear enough to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and unite the populace towards a greater good. It has been done for centuries, and will continue to be employed as long as the political game is played the world over.

In MOCKINGJAY pt 1, we watch closely as Katniss is turned into the ball in a twisted game of Monkey-in-The-Middle. She is forced to become an even more intense version of the folk hero she never wanted to be, and prodded by her enemy as the one person who can make it all stop. Jennifer Lawrence embodies this well, as she often struggles to find the right words or the right tone. Of course, when she finally does, she is exploited as a symbol of the rebellion…both for better and for worse.

What’s interesting in that respect is the way Lawrence is manipulated at the hands of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore. There’s a wonderful echo-effect in seeing two veteran actors mould the performance of an ingenue. They have a great understanding of how she will affect us, her audience, and know how to harness that for maximum effect. In a scary way, one wonders if similar conversations are had by studio heads about talents of Lawrence’s ilk.

Seeing all of these ideas interwoven into characters we have come to know and taken up by several we don’t is truly engaging. However, it builds up towards a brutal anticlimax that leaves us in the middle of nowhere. None of the loops the film has opened are closed off, and the resolution it does offer us feels merely like lip-service. In a word: this is a story without an end. Now it’s not the first time Hollywood has done this, and it probably won’t be the last…but this time it feels particularly pointed. Perhaps that’s because along with being a film with no end, it’s also a film with no beginning. It picks up sometime after the last film ended and leaves us sometime before the next film begins. The story structure is almost non-existent, probably because the source book was never written with a two-part structure in mind.

So what we end up with is several chapters from a book that has several more chapters to be told. Fans of this series and those who have followed it thus for will be pleased, but everyone else will walk away dissatisfied – and this trend of audience dissatisfaction really has to stop.

Matineescore: Unrateable
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY pt 1.