The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

(Netflix Streaming, October 2014)  The root of the problems with Mockingjay 1 (or Hunger Games 3a) is the business decision, well before the movie had started shooting, that the third volume in adapting Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy was to be split in two separate movies.  While there is some justification to the split (the book itself does feel as if it has separate halves), it means that this first half isn’t much more than seeing the lead character mope around despondently for a full hour and a half, with much repetitive material thrown in, over and over again.  The pacing isn’t just off: it’s the entire point of the film that’s dulled by this decision.  Fortunately, Jennifer Lawrence continues to be better than the material she gets: even a relatively low point like Mockingjay 1 showcases how much the series relies on her performance.  It’s not as if the other actors stand there doing nothing (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s pretty good as a manipulator working against his former masters and Natalie Dormer gets a meatier part than usual here), but she remains the foundation on which the series is built.  While there’s something encouraging to be said about the film’s production values, its jaundiced view of revolutions and the vulgarized exposition of propaganda techniques, Mockingjay 1 isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch – and if the producers stick to the book, Part 2 won’t be a bag of happy puppies either.  But then again, I’m comfortably older than the target audience for this trilogy.  At least it’s a bit better than most of its emulators have managed to be so far.

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