Follow Us on Twitter

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - DVD Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE penultimate instalment of The Hunger Games franchise is a punishing experience that pummels the audience as much as its leading lady from start to finish. It also happens to be brilliant.

Mockingjay may have been split into two films from a final source novel but it overcomes the often plodding nature of these Part 1 movies to grip from start to finish, almost by virtue of its unrelenting bleakness. If you thought The Empire Strikes Back was as dark as franchise films could go, then think again.

Part 1 of Mockingjay is a tense, thought-provoking, occasionally exhilarating and consistently emotionally devastating slice of filmmaking that even succeeds in serving as a blockbuster that is scarily allegorical for the times in which we live.

Picking up after the devastating finale of Catching Fire, the film now sees Katniss Everdeen in the hands of the rebels, led by Julianne Moore’s president, and backed by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s calculated Plutarch Heavensbee. With her, too, are Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her mother and younger sister, and Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson’s now sober but still sceptical Haymitch Abernathy.

Left behind, however, is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), now in the hands of Donald Sutherland’s evil President Snow.

With both sides locked in conflict and battling to unite the remaining districts, Katniss and Peeta continue to be used as pawns, or figureheads, for the various sides… something that has a devastating emotional toll on both of them.

But with Snow capable of resorting to ever more genocidal and unsrupulous methods, the rebels must rally and strike quickly to stand a chance of taking Panem.

Directed once again by Francis Lawrence, Mockingjay Part 1 is almost stifling in the way it continues to build the tensions between the two sides, resulting in some devastating set pieces that are designed to showcase the true cost of war. As such, there are some images that push the boundaries of the 12A certificate.

But what the film does so effectively is capture the sense of loss and despair that accompanies any frontline. And it’s unflinching in its depiction of how war – and particularly bombing – destroys indiscriminately.

Impressive, too, is the way in which the film invests the audience in Katniss’ emotional plight – a situation made all the more memorable and powerful by Lawrence’s powerhouse central performance. This is arguably her strongest portrayal of Katniss yet, combining the rebellious qualities of old with the confusion, anger, frustration and despair that now accompanies her ordeal. She carries the audience through every emotion and allows them to feel the sense of loss inherent in her journey throughout.

Lawrence, and the film’s screenwriters, also deserve maximum credit here for the film’s allegorical power. Where The Hunger Games in general has embodied themes of police states, identity, reality TV, celebrity and civil liberty, this one tackles the war on terror too. Sequences of public executions, brain-washing and media manipulation hold eerie resonance with current headlines and abuses of power.

It means, though, that The Hunger Games is a franchise that transcends the limitations of its Young Adult novel origins to emerge as something much more mature and relevant.

If there are criticisms, they mainly stem from the decision to cut the film (or rather book) short. But where most films of this nature, including the final Harry Potter films and the current Hobbit franchise, feel like they are dragging things out in the pursuit of sustained box office returns, Mockingjay Part 1 is strong enough to stand on its own as a brilliant movie and one that leaves you genuinely excited about seeing how it all ends.

It is one of those rare franchises that seems to be going from strength to strength.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 3mins
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: March 16, 2015