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Film review: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1, from Built For Speed

The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1 suffers the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows curse where, in a final cash grab, the last instalment of a film franchise is split in two making the first half a mostly dull prelude to the actual finale. That’s not to say Mocking Jay Part 1 doesn’t have its attractions.  Director Francis Lawrence still manages to draw from Suzanne Collins’ novel an unsettling picture of a totalitarian regime that manipulates its oppressed subjects with Orwellian language and propaganda all of which have disturbing echoes in contemporary politics and media.  These potent political insights are, however, thinly scattered throughout a bland sci fi adventure story that, especially in its first half, is disappointingly listless.

Mocking Jay Part 1 sees heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hiding out with the rebel alliance in their bunker beneath District 13 after she literally brought the house down with a well-placed arrow in the last Hunger Games film.  Katniss’ defiance of the ruling order in the dystopian world of Panem has inspired an uprising in the districts which rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore) and former game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (the sadly departed Phillip Seymour Hoffman) are trying to turn into a mass rebellion.  Ill-equipped militarily, the rebels hope to sway the masses with propaganda featuring Katniss as their warrior poster girl or Mocking Jay.  Desperate to quash the rebellion, Panem’s sinister ruler President Snow (Donald Sutherland) instigates a brutal bombing assault on the rebels along with his own propaganda campaign in which Katniss’ captured lover Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is forced to appear in nationwide broadcasts beseeching the rebels to surrender. Aided by friends Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and the amusingly sozzled Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) Katniss tries to negotiate her unsettling new role as a propaganda weapon and her lingering feelings for Peeta.

The first half if this film unspools at a snooze worthy pace with very little happening apart from dull dialogue and most of the characters looking alternately confused and distressed.  Jennifer Lawrence does her best with the material at hand, though and is still magnetic screen presence investing the feisty yet vulnerable Katniss with earnestness and empathy. The two young male leads Hemsworth and Hutcherson are as bland as they were in the previous Hunger Games films although in one impressively shocking scene, Hutcherson offers a tantalising glimpse of what he might offer in Mocking Jay Part 2.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives the smirking Heavensbee a wonderfully duplicitous quality making his final role a memorable one.

The latter part of the film offers more action and some impressive spectacle as the empire launches a bombing attack on district 13 and the rebels retaliate in kind.  There’s also a tense sequence in which the rebels attempt a rescue mission in the Capital.  This sequence looks and feels different to the rest of the film and one can only imagine how much better the film would have been if the entire movie been as inspired as this segment.

Mocking Jay Part 2 will no doubt offer greater thrills and resolutions to issues alluded to in this film but by itself Mocking Jay Part 1 won’t convert too many non-Hunger Games devotees to part with the cash for that last instalment.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Science Fiction/ action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Francis Lawrence.

Release date: 20th Nov 2014.

Running time: 123 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show 

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