The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (PG-13)

Action/Adventure 123 November 21, 2014
By Amy Nicholson
Mockingjay is where author Suzanne Collins's books go from solid to superlative. This is a story about ethical compromise where the heroine is willing to kill, and it asks its audience to recognize that even her allies are a little bit rotten — and to accept that maybe that's half-OK.
Since Mockingjay has been divvied up into two segments, this film is all about the buildup to war. Next year's installment will have most of the action — here, the battle is waged on TV. The narrative thrust is simply Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss shooting several pro-revolution commercials. But it works because we're fascinated by media fights -- thousands occur online every day. A story beat where a lullaby that Katniss casually sings on camera ripples onward to become the chant of four dozen civilians marching toward their own massacre feels like both high-concept tragedy and the next evolution of #AlexFromTarget.

Yet the film's fixation on Katniss means that we still aren't given a chance onscreen to explore Collins's elaborate world. Katniss keeps the film human -- here, elevated to an icon, she looks away embarrassed when the District 13 crowd applauds her latest ad. Director Francis Lawrence keeps his camera close to star Jennifer Lawrence's sad eyes as she strides through the rubble Katniss has triggered. Many have died in her name, yet Mockingjay only occasionally shows us the corpses, charred wraiths whose exposed ribcages look like mouths screaming for liberty. Instead, the director pans to where the franchise's real war has always raged: Katniss's conscience. Since Jennifer Lawrence can say more with a chagrined side-eye than most actresses could with a page-long speech, it works.
Francis Lawrence Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone Danny Strong, Peter Craig Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik Lionsgate Films