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Review: ‘Mockingjay, Part 1’ is only half a movie, but it is a very good half

2014-11-28-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Part-I-movie-posterBy MARK VIOLA

Reviewing the first half of a movie, without getting to see the eventual payoff, is always difficult. The “Harry Potter” franchise started the trend, cutting its final film, “Deathly Hallows” into two parts, which gave the filmmakers twice the runtime to tell their story, but also presenting that same story over the course of 12 months. The “Twilight” series followed suit with the same treatment of its last installment. Then Peter Jackson had to one-up everyone (as he is want to do) and split “The Hobbit” into three movies.

And now we have “Mockingjay,” the final book of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy about the dystopian civilization of Panem, in which children from the 12 outlying districts are forced to battle to the death in the annual Hunger Games for the amusement of the Capitol, as well as a reminder of what would befall the people of the District should they ever rise up again.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” like those divided films before it, is able to tell its story at a gentler pace, building up the conflicts’ emotional stakes, but ultimately still delivers only half a movie. Still, this is a very good half of a movie, and while it doesn’t have the action that is sure to come in Part 2, it does a solid job at raising the stakes even further as the rebellion sparked in the second film blazes into outright war in this installment.

In my review of “Catching Fire,” I said it was a deeper, most powerful film than the first, and likewise, “Mockingjay” once again expands and strengthens the emotional framework of the series, creating a powerful installment to the series. This is helped by Lawrence, who gives by far her best performance as Katniss to date. Overall, the cast embody their characters, bringing instant connection despite the significant change of tone and setting found here.

Although we have to wait another 12 months to get the final resolution, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is a quite satisfying film, even though it’s technically only half a film.

The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

(This is a shortened version of the full review available in our printed or e-edition papers.)

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