Jennifer Lawrence Brilliant in Mockingjay

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The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1

MOCKINGJAY PART 1 is the continuing story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and is the 3rd movie adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins. The film picks up where CATCHING FIRE left off, without very much time lapse in between. Katniss wakes up in District 13 (the district below ground that was always thought to exist, and which no one -- not even President Snow -- knew where) after surviving the Quarter Quell, saving the life of her partner, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and seemingly putting an end to the Hunger Games for good.

But all is not roses for Ms. Everdeen (although she does end up with a lot of them). While she did save Peeta’s life, he was not rescued when she was and she now finds herself caught up in a struggle from many angles to save him -- while at the same time being coerced into leading a rebellion. Katniss’s victory has sparked a full blown revolution, and District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) makes it clearly known that it is only if Katniss leads the rebellion that the other districts will follow and rise up to help them over throw the Capitol.

On the other side of the coin (ha ha) is the Capitol’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who will do anything to crush this insurgency. He is bent on not only making every District and everyone who sides with Katniss pay dearly, but he also strives to make Katniss pay dearly as well. With Peeta captive and seemingly on the side of the Capitol, Katniss is torn in every direction -- caught in the middle of a battle where it seems she will lose one way or the other. Either the rebellion will fail, she loses Peeta, or both.

Katniss is not alone through all this though, as her family, friends and acquaintances are also refugees in District 13. On the surface they may not look like much anymore, but when you take in the whole line-up they are quite a formidable team. With her are Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Each brings much to the table (okay, some more than others): Plutarch, it turns out, is quite the propaganda generating machine and Beetee an uber-technical genius. As for Haymitch and Effie, well, one of them is drying out and the other is quite upset that she has to wear jumpers and no longer has her wigs. But rest assured when their talent is needed, there is no one but them who can do it like they do.

Right from the start you can see that Katniss just wants to get Peeta back and be with her family. However she is caught smack dab in the middle of a fight that has more than one aspect in common with STAR WARS’ Empire versus the Rebel Alliance. Even the Capitol’s guards bear a striking similarity to Storm Troopers. It is between this rock and a hard place that we see the genius acting of Jennifer Lawrence come through. Katniss is broken in many ways from all she has been through, and is as frail as she is strong. No matter what is thrown at her -- and much is, both physically and mentally -- she holds it all together, and Jennifer shows it all to us. It’s not so much her dialog or how she says her lines, but in her facial gestures and the emotion in her eyes that tells me what is going on inside Katniss. There are several instances throughout the movie where Katniss is subject to visual trauma, and director Francis Lawrence does a superb job of allowing us to see Katniss looking at it first before showing the audience, and every time I could tell by the emotion and facial gestures just what pain, sadness or anger she was feeling, so that when I did see what she was looking at, it meshed together perfectly. Other times, when she’s looking at Peeta on the TV screen and she’s listening to him say what they want him to say, you can just see the heartbreak in her eyes, knowing that he’s there, forced to say lies, hearing others shout hatred at him as a sell-out -- and she doesn’t know how to save him.

She also does something so simple, so well, that only a fine actor/actress can pull off without looking hokey. In a particular scene, she portrays Katniss acting badly and saying lines that come out like an amateur. It’s funny, but at the same time so good -- and then she turns it right around in the very next scene and portray Katniss as Katniss is. Wow!

The character of Katniss is one I like also because it shows a young woman in an action role, who doesn’t have super fighting skills, doesn’t carry nine different kinds of futuristic guns that never seem to run out of bullets. She’s just a young woman with a lot of heart, love and determination who gets thrown into things and rises to the occasion to do what she has to do to survive and save the others. To me, that’s a real role model

Donald Sutherland is just as effective. His quiet demeanor and tone of voice make his ruthless cold-bloodedness all the more effective – such a great contrast to have him inflict such mental torture emotionlessly, while she shows the effects so visually.

I also enjoyed the way we get to see Katniss and Gale interact, as we see more now of how they feel about each other -- or don’t -- without making it about them.

I think too it was a stroke of good story telling that we got to hear some back story on how President Snow came to power, and what kind of person he is, through Finnick.

The special effects are very good, and are of good scale for the type of movie this is. Effects are obviously used a lot, but they are not out of proportion to the movie; they accent the movie instead of take the starring role. When large scale was called for, it was there. When it was just scenery, it was there too, and very well filmed. I was never drawn into the music of the film, as I was too engrossed in the movie itself, save for a time when Katniss sings a song that ends up being choreographed into a beautifully filmed act of rebellion. Other than that, for me it was just background music.

The movie flowed effortlessly, and I did not find myself ever looking at my watch to see what time it was -- something I’m prone to do when I know that the movie is only a “Part 1.”I will admit I kept wondering to myself when something was happening, “Is this going to be where it cuts off?”

Looking back, do I think making this a two-part movie was just a Hollywood stunt to make more money? Or is the extra two hours something that was/is really needed to tell the story effectively? I don’t know. I can see it as being both. I do believe, though, that you have to see the other two movies to fully grasp the characters and storyline. To that end, this movie is not really what I would call a stand-alone movie that you could just pick up and watch without some knowledge of what came before.

Jennifer Lawrence knocked it out of the park with this. I can’t remember many of her lines, but I can still see her expressions in my mind at every poignant scene. Brilliant is a word thrown around a lot, often without any real merit. But in this case, with Ms. Lawrence’s acting – brilliant.

4.5 / 5.0