Before Mockingjay, things were much simpler. Play the game, survive, move on, hunt in the woods with Gale, now everything has changed. I usually like to write my columns and reviews with a healthy dose of humor, but it seems out of place to me as I write my review for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, in theaters today, November 21st. It's actually hard to sort through my thoughts about the film at the moment, since it weighs so heavily on my shoulders. As an avid fan of the books, I could not have asked for a better film, a better cast, and a better company to give us fans the film we and the books deserve. Mockingjay Part 1 is quite simply, the best one yet,and a triumph for everyone whose name is even remotely attached to it. This is how you make books into films folks. While it's clear Mockingjay is a set--up for part 2, it does nothing to take from the greatness of the film on it's own.
At the beginning, we are harshly confronted with an unstable Katniss Everdeen in the confines of District 13, much changed since we last saw her shoot her arrow in the arena of Catching Fire. Jennifer Lawrence plays crazy right on the nose as she eerily repeats Katniss's name and story to herself as if she can't remember it just as soon as she says it. Early on, we know that Mockingjay will be nothing like it's predecessors. Plagued by nightmares Katniss wonders to discover a very disheveled sobbing Finnick Odair, who is just as messed up and rattled as our girl on fire. They have both gone mad from the games, and are kept awake knowing that their loved ones, Annie Cresta and Peeta Mellark, are most likely dead. That's right, don't you remember? The District 13 rebels went to great lengths for Katniss Everdeen, but left Peeta to the wolves. District 13 only had intentions of saving their Mockingjay, and pushing her to be the spokesperson for their rebellion against the Capitol. Reluctantly, Katniss agrees at the urging of D13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) only if they in turn rescue Peeta. We are then welcomed into a whirlwind of back and fourth between the angry districts and President Snow, with Katniss and Peeta caught in the crossfire and pinned against each-other. Once Peeta is rescued in a stealth mission, we are tricked into a false sense of security and happiness for the first time in the film, only to discover the Capitol had always intended for Peeta to be rescued and delivered straight to her. He is a bomb whose only trigger is Katniss Everdeen.
Lionsgate so preciously weaves in our favorite characters as the film moves forward, self proclaimed "political refugee" Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), a now sober and less grumpy Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and a sadder and unrelenting Gale Hawthorn (Liam Hemsworth). Newcomer Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta) may have just one scene as she reunites with her love Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) but her performance alongside Sam's stands out as one of the most effective and important in the film as a whole. Yet perhaps my favorite performance comes from someone who receives much less screen time than the previous films, Josh Hutcherson. His tortured and painful portrayal of a very broken Peeta Mellark calling for Katniss with tears in his black eyes and a quiver in his lip will break your heart in the worst way. You can see the hope in his eyes just knowing she's alive, and the light in Katniss that she has been missing, as she realizes the same of him.
Mockingjay never gives you a moment to dry your eyes or catch your breath, it's full speed ahead, and leaves you with the feeling that there is no need to wait for Part 2 next November. You would rather just sit in the theater all day and watch the whole thing top to bottom, the hours wouldn't matter, you just want to stay. You could watch Jennifer Lawrence sing the sad and haunting "Hanging Tree" over and over, understanding that her song is a call to her love and a realization that they are far beyond saving. *Sidenote: Jennifer, you can sing. Like, really.
Whether a fan for life or having never read the books, Mockingjay will draw you into the fire. Lionsgate has given us the best Hunger Games and Young Adult adaptation to date, but not for long, Mockingjay Part 2 will undoubtedly take the throne next November, we just wish we didn't have to wait so long.
In closing, to reflect that of Mockingjay's, this is "In Loving Memory of Phillip Seymour Hoffman".
The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 is in theaters NOW worldwide.