About a quarter into the film, a group of the most important characters gather in a room to brainstorm how they can use Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) most effectively in their rebellion propaganda. Prior to the scene, Katniss failed to bring any emotion to the scene as they filmed her for a video that would be sent out in order to inspire the people of Panem, the world that inhabits the story of The Hunger Games.
As they struggle to find an angle that works, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) stands up and asks what inspired them most about Katniss prior to this moment and they came to the conclusion that the unscripted moments (when she was real and not following what other told her) was what worked best for people.
Much like this strategy, the Hunger Games series has built itself on its social commentary, strong female protagonist, and layered dystopian world but where the franchise really shines is when Lawrence put up against the enemy (generally Donald Sutherland’s President Snow) and is pushed beyond her limits until she finally cracks and is forced to act. The series has many moments of this, but they have been most effective in the last two entries of the franchise under the direction of Francis Lawrence.
Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) has brought a strong hand to guide the franchise and much like Alfonso Cuaron and David Yates during Harry Potter, he was able to take what was laid out before him and build from it to make it more compelling and more his own. Mockingjay Part 1 is no different as he is given the tough task of pulling apart a book for two movies and the end result is much better than what it says this film should be like on paper.
The film follows Katniss after the events of Catching Fire. We pick up our heroine in a hospital in District 13 where she is coming to terms with the new rebellion and what her place in it means. Her place, as put by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore, is to be a symbol for the people. They want her to be something that they can look up to and get inspired behind as the Capitol tears through their towns like it is nothing.
Katniss is hesitant to this and that hesitancy is voiced through a line near the end of the film when she stands and speaks with President Snow as a covert mission takes place to save some of the captured allies from the past film. “I didn’t want any of this. I just wanted to save my sister,” she pleads with the film’s villain. “Ms. Everdeen, it is what we love most that destroys us,” he retorts.
It takes Katniss awhile and maybe she has fully grasped what her role in this whole rebellion is, but the film does a good job of shifting between scenes of Capitol peacekeepers attacking civilians and their slow rise against the oppression and the scenes in District 13 where Katniss begins to understand what these people want and why it is important for her to do her job.
That doesn’t come without its faults and while Moore and Hoffman are great to see on screen working together, and their scenes are some of the best, there is always this air around their working that seems like something isn’t all there. We are told that these are the good guys but their underground society that holds everyone together is questionable and no one in the film ever takes the time to examine why these are the people they need to follow and if what they’re doing is in everyone’s best interest.
In the end, the fantastic directing work by Francis Lawrence and the top-notch acting by Jennifer Lawrence proves that this franchise is still able to bring out the best in young adult adaptations. The commentary is sharp and the action is better, but in a world that seems so destined one way or another, it seems odd not to question a little bit what direction these characters are headed and whether the right choices were made.