I was not always so supportive of The Hunger Games. In my freshman year of high school, I loved this film called “Battle Royale,” a Japanese film about a group of ninth graders randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death on a deserted island until one survivor remains. I saw “The Hunger Games” as something of a rip-off, and I let everyone know how I felt, how this small Japanese film will always outdo this Americanized version. “Battle Royale” still holds up today, but I found myself eating my words upon viewing the first film in the Hunger Games series. I immediately was enamored by not only the depth of the world, but also the enthralling protagonist. I was captivated by the minimalist shooting style that still had a blockbuster essence about it, and I immediately was hooked. I devoured the books more than once, and excitedly waited for the sequel. Cut to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”: the pinnacle of all book-to-movie adaptions for me, it followed so closely and was shot incredibly (I mean, insane, whoever can pull off dialogue scenes with IMAX cameras is a genius), and it set up perfectly for the penultimate chapter to the film saga. I admit, I wasn’t stoked for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” simply because I didn’t think there was going to be much going on besides dialogue and a few action scenes. I underestimated each bit of talent involved with this film.

Jennifer Lawrence, arguably one of the finest actresses of our generation, shines again as Katniss Everdeen. Fresh from her second run in a Hunger Games and separated from her love interest, Katniss is terrified and confused when she arrives in District 13, a district that had once been thought of as dead, and finds that the residents have been harboring fugitives and preparing for the rebellion long before her arrival. Lawrence’s performance in this film is dark and troubling, with each bombshell (figuratively and literally), chipping away at her humanity. Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta Mellark is not as present in this chapter, as he has been kidnapped by The Capitol and held to break Katniss down. Two newcomers I was greatly impressed by were Julianne Moore as President Coin and Natalie Dormer as Cressida. Neither come as a surprise, but Moore and Dormer each offer a new style to add to the immense repertoire already represented by the current cast. It doesn’t get much better than this.

What I find so enthralling about each Hunger Games film, is that it’s able to embellish a different style of filmmaking to convey the different themes and feelings of each book. This ranges from the cameras on which each film was shot (each film utilizing a different style including 35mm film, 70mm IMAX film, and digital for this installment) to the editing styles and color palettes offered with each setting and situation. Even the placement of the title card of the film and the font of the credits indicate a shift in styles and tones. Director Francis Lawrence knows how to transition with these well and how to appropriately direct each scene with a gradual shift from what he portrayed in the previous film to what he wants out of this film.

I never found myself bored in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” but as the first portion of a two-part storyline, it’s the slowest chapter of any of the Hunger Games films and will no doubt turn some off at it’s slow burn pace leading to Part 2. But what needs to be kept in mind is how these types of movies work: never once have I seen a film marked “Part 1” that is filled with thrills and consistent action all the way through, and I think that the slow burn nature of this film will make the action and emotion in Part 2 even more satisfying, much like it did for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

My expectations were completely exceeded with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” I expected the film to be a dull, cash-grabbing lead-up to the finale of the series, but what at present is a completely capable, exceptionally directed, wonderfully acted slow burn lead up to what will be a spectacular finale. Jennifer Lawrence is as good as ever in the lead role, and the new roles filled by Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer give the female characters even more empowerment than what was already present. Whatever expectations I had for the film were thrown back in my face by the amazing talent involved with this film from the cast, to the director, to the author, and frankly, I should’ve known better.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Films
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, with Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Paula Malcomson, and Patina Miller.
Runtime: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

Lionsgate presents, a Color Force/Lionsgate production, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

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Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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