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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review

Friday, November 28, 2014 Rob Samuelson

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman

The first part of The Hunger Games finale is about one thing at its core: What happens when we ask too much of our heroes? Can they overcome that to remain leaders? Is there something special about these people that allows them to be this way, or does the public that looks up to them merely create the narrative that they are strong and better than the rest?

Mockingjay Part 1 posits that there is no hero gene, leaving it stronger than most modern blockbuster filmmaking for it. It makes Katniss Everdeen one of the best modern blockbuster protagonists, too.

After the events of the previous film, Catching Fire, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering in the fortified underground bunkers of District 13, where the revolution against Donald Sutherland's President Snow is stationed. She doesn't have tremendous physical maladies. Her wounds are all mental. She's a mess. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ravages her. She shakes, she hides in tunnels, every little noise frightens her. There is no way for her to live anything resembling a normal life anymore, and she wants to retain her sanity if at all possible.

Her benefactors, however, don't leave room for that possibility. They need Katniss to be the face of their revolution. The subjugated people look up to her, even though she never asks for it. She doesn't play the public relations game. That is Peeta's (Josh Hutcherson) milieu. And he's gone, held captive in the Capitol, making propaganda videos – likely against his will, though his savviness doesn't give that away – to quash the rebellion. He's great at it, whereas Katniss is awful – her first attempt at a rebellion propaganda video is one of the movie's funniest moments.

What sets Katniss apart isn't her willingness to do the right thing, but her inability to be anything but herself. She doesn't play to anyone. When she tries to lie, everyone she lies to can see through it immediately. She shies away from the spotlight, but her mysteriousness only makes people want to see more of her, learn more about her, and it drives her crazy.

This is where the film gets brilliant. Unlike other modern movie heroes, who have it in them from the start out of idealism (Captain America) or a form of traumatized paternalism (Batman) and seem destined for heroism, Katniss doesn't want to be a hero. She only does it to protect the people she loves, and not for the subjugated masses. She signed up for the first Hunger Games to save her sister, her second Games was a way to protect Peeta from dying, and joins the revolution as a figurehead to save Peeta from the clutches of the Capitol. Even during one of Mockingjay's most harrowing moments, she does something heroic only to save her sister's cat.

But it's not just her reluctance for prestige, it's the way Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence work together to make every choice viscerally and arduously real. Those shakes, those tears, the seething hatred at the unwanted responsibility (that no one else will take up in her absence, of course) are sewn into the fabric of Mockingjay. The movie doesn't pay lip service to these feelings, but makes them apparent in every frame. The sweat on Katniss's head as she wakes from nightmares glistens in the unhealthy, streetlight yellow lights in the bunker. The costume design on Peeta – every suit he wears looks like a knife pointing at his throat – tears at her, and his withering appearance with each video makes it worse as she can't do anything to stop his pain in the moment. He is the only reason she agrees to move forward with the plan, and the reality of that makes Mockingjay Part 1 one of the finest action adventures of the year.

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