Mockingjay - Part One

The third part of the film Hunger Games film series lends itself to some obvious criticisms, being the adaptation of first half of Suzanne Collins’s novel it could have been slow paced, with little plot development and suffering from having to set up the second, excitement filled part. In short it could have had the same problems as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Twilight: New Moon. As well as being a part one there are also very high expectations, the film is based on a best selling novel and follows up two critically acclaimed box office topping hits. Mockingjay also stars run away box office sensation and critical darling Jennifer Lawrence. Between all these factors the stakes for Mockingjay - Part One are high. Despite all of this The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is a good film, the strong characters are put at the forefront of this picture and watching them is extremely entertaining.

The focus on their relationships grounds the film and stops it floating off into a debate about totalitarianism or being simply a series of vapid set pieces.

The strong performances from the able cast bring the characters to life (even those with little screen time), which makes the personal and interpersonal conflict vivid against what could have been the overpowering weight of the extra personal conflict. The three main conflicts are balanced against each other which stops the film becoming abstruse, melodramatic or just empty spectacle.

The personal conflict which follows Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence, reluctantly becoming the face of the uprising against the oppressive Capitol, is handled well with an interesting exploration of the role of reluctant hero and the symbolic figure head. Katniss has always been a great reluctant hero, the perfect antidote to glory seeking superheroes that currently dominate the big screen.

Katniss’s reluctant hero is much more realistic and interesting to watch, Lawrence is ably shows the two sides of her personality: the raging Mockingjay, icon of the revolution, and the withdrawn teenage girl yearning for a normal life.

Lawrence is very good with the complex character of Katniss, bringing the character to life through her contradictions, from unrestrained anger at the violence of the Capital’s oppression,to heart breaking sadness when she sees the personal consequences of the struggle, to normal teenage angst and desire to be left alone by destiny. Where the character could have been confused, Lawrence makes her seems like a real person, filled with frailties and strengths.

Interpersonal conflict is very important in teenaged stories, with their strong focus on relationships. Mockingjay Part One avoids clichés even with characters who only appear briefly and could have been stereotypes. The supporting cast all get there moments to shine and each character adds a different dimension to the story, from the politicians and generals on either side, to Katniss family and friends struggling to live normal lives during a war.

I am glad Mockingjay Part One avoided a tired love triangle storyline common to many young adaptations. That would have been too obvious for a series as subtle as the Hunger Games and that is rooted in the extremes of life, from murderous teenagers to full scale open conflict between state and citizens.

More interesting interpersonal relationship are explored such as that of her family, her commanders and her enemies. The stand out performance of the film is Donald Sutherland as the Capital’s leader, the maniacal President Snow, who is equal parts Caligula and Stalin. A special mention must go to Philip Seymour Hoffman who turns in a great performance as calculating and manipulative Plutarch Heavensbee, producer of Katniss’s propaganda videos. He is great as ever, a talent that is sadly missed.

Some of the strongest moments of the film are in nuanced relationship drama. Extrapersonal plot developments, the rebellion itself, kept to a minimum or happen off screen so that they do not overpower the movie. This is not just a war film, it is about these characters continuing lives set against the backdrop of a war.

The most accomplished moments of extra personal conflict are not explosive action scenes but the contemplative scenes, Katniss visiting a field hospital or pausing for a few minutes by a lake. The strength of these scenes is that they also develop personal conflict, Katniss resolving to become the symbol they need in the field hospital, and the interpersonal conflict, Katniss bonding with her comrades at the lake side. Several conflicts turn on the same key emotional scenes, extra personal conflict and interpersonal conflict developing when Katniss sees a video of her love interests Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) doing propaganda video for the Capitol, rebel leader Alma Coin’s (Julianne Moore) speeches pushing personal and extrapersonal conflict forwards as Katniss becomes the Mockingjay and the rebellion steps up its efforts.

The war, or extrapersonal drama, is shown unflinchingly. The conflict we are shown is reminiscent footage we have all seen of the current conflicts in the Ukraine or Syrian. The ravishes of war in Mockingjay are also similar to reports I have read recent conflicts. The military set pieces appear to be modern, not futurist, or even looks a bit retro (the grey industrial landscape is reminiscent of the 70s or 80s) which makes the violence of the conflict appear very real. Mockingjay’s overall tone is grim tone, there is the horrors of war, the breakdown of personal relations and the Katniss doubt that if she can bear the weight of being the symbol the rebels need. The emotional tone is dark but the movie stops being oppressive by having enough inspiring movements such as the solidarity the rebels experience during a Capitol bombing raid.

The film is not perfect, it has some negative points. Peeta's character suffers from underdevelopment, not being particular interesting the first place and Hutcherson being a less than gifted actor. The rebellion could also have been explored more depth, the rebels are not shown as being completely virtuous but the politics are very one sided. The Capital is bad and the rebels are noble, reality is rarely like this and a more nuanced conflict would have been more realistic.

Despite these criticisms The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One avoids all of the pitfalls it could have fallen into and ends up being a very well made film. The only drawback is that is raises expectations for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part Two. If part two can exceed part one than it will be a stunning end to the series. However the second half of Mockingjay turns out, I am certainly excited to see it after the strength of this film.