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Film Review

‘Mockingjay, Part 1” a tedious affair

11/26/2014

“Mockingjay, Part I”Mockingjay

Rated PG-13

130 minutes

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore and Liam Hemsworth

This is the world we live in. When movie franchises now make billions of dollars — rather than just hundreds of millions — studios look for every possible way to extend them. That is how afterthought novellas like “The Hobbit” can become epic trilogies, and that is why Lions Gate Entertainment can look for a way to turn Suzanne Collins’ 390-page conclusion to the “Hunger Games” series into five hours worth of movies.

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“Mockingjay” follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she becomes the full-fledged face of a revolution. Removed from the Hunger Games arena, “Mockingjay” chronicles the final rebellious push into the Capital of Panem by the outlying Districts. The revolution is led from the shady, militaristic District 13 by President Coin (Julianne Moore). After rescuing Katniss from the Arena in the previous book (and film), Coin immediately recognizes Katniss’ potential as a propaganda tool. Meanwhile, Katniss’ love interest and fellow “Hunger Games” champion Peta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capital and is fulfilling the same capacity for them, encouraging potential revolutionaries to lay down their arms.

Did any of the above paragraphs bore you? Because therein lies the biggest issue with the first “Mockingjay” installment. Collins’ third book is at times a tedious affair. Unfortunately for “Mockingjay, Part I,” the vast majority of that tedium is front-loaded, leaving movie-goers with a 130-minute film about speeches and campaign ads.

There is one action sequence in the film, and it lasts about three minutes. Everything else is simply implied, leaving Katniss to react to things that have happened off screen. To that end, Lawrence does the best she can with what she’s given. Lawrence is unarguably one of the finest young actors working today, and she breathes a life into Katniss that few actors her age could.

But there is just not much else here that matters. “Mockingjay” isn’t a story that was meant to be split in two — that is made painfully obvious by the imbalance in the action. The previous installments of the series have been surprisingly slow-paced, given their source material, but “Mockingjay, Part I” kicks it up a notch and gives us no less than seven scenes of monologued speeches, three of which come from Moore’s incredibly stilted and boring President Coin.

Aside from Lawrence, there are few other highlights in the performances. Elizabeth Banks is delightful as the flighty, superficial Effie Trinket, and Woody Harrelson continues to be a bright spot as the caustic, alcoholic former Champion, Haymitch Abernathy. But there are far too few moments with either character, as the story focuses on Katniss and her struggle to do, well, nothing in particular. Lawrence’s full-tilt performance notwithstanding, everyone else involved in the story looks just about as bored with the script as we are. Even Phillip Seymour Hoffman — who never mailed in a performance in his life — seems listless and overly-constrained by a story that refuses to go anywhere.

Director Francis Lawrence entered the series in its second installment. If 2013’s “Catching Fire” is any indication, Part 2 of “Mockingjay” will be more entertaining, because the second half of the book is where most of the good stuff is. But in their quest to wring every last dollar out of the franchise, Lions Gate has made two films out of one book, and this first installment is about as exciting as tuning in to C-Span. CV

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