The Long, Long Walk to Freedom
Mockingjay or mocking us? That’s the question you’re left to chew over following this blue balls setup for the final Hunger Games movie. The decision to split the final story in this example of what they’re feeding young adults in place of real movies these days, was demonstrably cynical. Why get the price of one admission when you can double up? But Lionsgate’s greed has not been tempered with creative pride; that is to say, returning director Francis Lawrence has not endeavored to earn the last installment’s presumed four hour plus running time. We know this because Mockingjay Part I is distended and dull. It’s soporifically paced and what little action comes our way falls victim to perfunctory staging. There’s little kineticism behind the camera and little energy in front of it, just the sense that if the film were the primary consideration and not the box office, pruning and style might have come into play.
In fact, given that the most interesting stuff happens off screen – in part by design, the rest due to budget limitations (the money shots presumably saved for the grand finale), the only time we truly engage with the movie is when Katniss’s minders are trying to turn her rebellious exploits into Grade A propaganda on film. That the in-movie director Natalie Dormer is the closest this femicentric series has come to putting a woman behind the camera aside, it’s interesting to watch the characters’ attempts at wringing true emotional intensity and affecting action from the story’s events. As they strive to manipulate their audience, rousing them with stirring content, we’re conscious that Lawrence has manifestly failed to do the same for those watching the watchers. This part of the movie’s inadvertent self-reflexivity is the most engaging thing about it. The rest is silence.
Of course a young adult movie wouldn’t be a young adult movie without a love triangle, and credit where it’s due, Mockingjay’s is more intriguing than most. Well, at least on paper. As Jennifer Lawrence’s rebels plan to fight, for they don’t get much further than that, both camps, that’s the insurgents and Donald Sutherland’s autocracy, become engaged in a propaganda war featuring separated lovers. Katniss rallies the downtrodden masses while the government put our heroine’s beige love interest Peeta in a dagger shaped tie (with a collar that looks as though it may puncture his windpipe) and force him to denounce the uprising. There are tears in both camps, not least from third wheel Liam Hemsworth, who looks on Katniss longingly and wonders, like the audience, why she’s drawn to the bore on TV and not him, her old hunting pal. This is the emotional core of the movie, so it’s a shame that it feels so insubstantial, despite the good ideas underpinning it, and that we care not a jot for the rescue mission that will potentially free Peeta and complicate the three characters’ relationships – a problem as it’s the climax of the first part’s plot.
So the Hunger Games rolls on, sans concision and thus far, without a stylist behind the camera. Can this largely sanistised and uncultivated series finally earn its movie stripes in the climatic episode? On this evidence it’ll be tough. Tougher still to hold on to the events of Part I for the full year required when we’ll finally, belated, get to the end. Enjoy counting the cash, Lionsgate.