Saturday 22 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1) (2014) - Francis Lawrence

Let's face it, the third book in the series is the worst.  Stripping the story of the titular games, the narrative dawdles in the newly discovered District 13 whilst author Suzanne Collins makes some questionable choices.  Losing what makes the story unique, it just becomes another teen dystopian novel.

Yet again, though, film director Francis Lawrence has improved upon the novel in subtle ways.  Mostly, that's down to the performance of Jennifer Lawrence.  She embodies Katniss Everdeen perfectly: conflicted, struggling to deal with a traumatic past, and unable to cope with the pressures of leadership, whilst remaining strong-willed throughout.  The director has the confidence to simply let the camera linger, her face doing the storytelling.

The decision to split the film in two, though, is perhaps unnecessary.  It certainly allows for a remarkable level of faithful detail, but it does drag with a lack of action.  This is a film of preparation.  Waking up in District 13 led by President Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss finds herself on the side of the rebels who are determined to use her Mockingjay image as a symbol for their uprising.  Aided by the piercing blue eyes of childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and various newcomers (including Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer as Cressida), she records videos out in the warring districts to inspire the rebellion.

Peeta, meanwhile, has been captured by President Snow in the Capitol and is being manipulated as a weapon against Katniss; interviews with host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) are broadcast across the country to counter the rebels.  This, then, is a war of words - sombre and pensive, with only Elizabeth Banks' eccentric Effie Trinkett providing the slightest dash of comedy.  Where the first films were a morbid satire on celebrity culture, Mockingjay explores the power of media, image and propaganda with a melancholic score to match.  The outcome of that is almost entirely saved for Part 2, so it's impossible to critique this as a standalone film.

This dark, dystopian tale has captured the minds of a generation.  Whilst the plot and characters alone are intriguing, this third film lends a level of visual realism that transcends the fantasy of the novels.  The series may have started as Twilight fan fiction, but this is a far more pertinent narrative than the love lives of vampires.  As Katniss visits the destroyed District 12 or the war-torn District 8, the images have a disturbing sense of verisimilitude.  This could be Iraq, or Syria, or any other modern war zone.  It might be set in the future, but Collins' story is utterly relevant to a society all too used to seeing war imagery across the media.  That's something that Lawrence's film only heightens.

Lastly, a quick word about the soundtrack: buy it.

No really.  You'd be hard-pressed to actually hear any of the songs used in the film but it's more than just a marketing tool, it's also one of the best albums of the year.  Curated by Lorde (and featuring a handful of new, original songs from her including lead track Yellow Flicker Beat), the album is essentially a list of the coolest people in contemporary pop: Chvrches, Tinash√©, Ariana Grande, Tove Lo, Raury, Bat for Lashes, Miguel, Major Lazer and more.  There's even a track from Grace Jones.  And these aren't just throwaway singles; the mostly downbeat and gloomy sounds are equally suited to the film and today's charts.  It's a soundtrack as relevant as the film itself.


Watch: Mockingjay (Part 1) is out now.
Listen: The soundtrack is also out now.