Monday, 24 November 2014

REVIEW - THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 (FRANCIS LAWRENCE)


The good and the bad of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 can be distilled into its duelling purposes: as a product of its time, and as an inspiration for times to come. Past and future collide in the present, combining to form a varied and diverting fantasy film that's more surprising in its now-familiar formula than in any of its narrative or stylistic decisions. Condensed into two books, rather than one, Suzanne Collins' novel Mockingjay technically provides sufficient material for this Part 1, but the filmmakers' efforts to shoehorn that material into a three-act structure feels phony and forced. Central to Mockingjay - Part 1 is the growth of the rebel movement in Collins' dystopian Panem, thereby setting the stage for the expected showdown between these forces and their oppressors in Part 2. Part 1's plot concludes with a rescue mission, though, one somewhat extraneous to the film's core concern, and thus the film feels incomplete - like the opening part of a two-hander, alas.  Despite this structural misstep, what invigorated both of this film's predecessors remains intact. There's only enough narrative meat on Part 1's bones due to its focus - how many studio blockbusters can claim so psychological a perspective, so complex a lead character, so accomplished a performance as Jennifer Lawrence gives here? Francis Lawrence's film would be positively arthouse were it not for the Hollywood action film flourishes (in this film's war movie incarnation, meticulously handled), in its devotion to lingering close-ups of its lead's face, her pensive, intelligent gaze encouraging Jo Willems' camera inward, and our thoughts onto hers. In so doing, and in its status as a largely female-dominated feature (as the love interest, Liam Hemsworth has an opportunity to experience the ignominy of inhabiting such a role), it sets a strong bar for future blockbusters to aspire to. Aside from Ms. Lawrence, there's some decent acting and some dreadful, while the film remains as technically solid, though far from spectacular, as the two that preceded it in this franchise.