In which Katniss takes the backseat — you can call Mockingjay – Part I that. For, having split the final book into two films, there is little to do in the third edition of the Hunger Games franchise but build up to the finale next year.
It’s a task, no doubt, to convey the churning happening in the districts, and yet not reveal enough, to depict the making of a revolt into a revolution, and yet not show all your tricks, and to keep Katniss and Peeta relevant when they are not doing much. There are extended bouts of grieving, speeches that sound repetitive, and another self-aware nudge to us that most of the battles these days are fought and won on mass media. If Mockingjay – Part I keeps the fires burning for Part II, it is because Lawrence is again so inherently believable and guileless as the helpless elder sister cast into the role of world saviour that all our sympathies lie with her — the permanently watery eyes notwithstanding.
There are no big-ticket fighting scenes in Mockingjay – I. In fact, having brought down most of Panem’s lies with that arrow she shot into its force field last time, Katniss (Lawrence) shoots all of one arrow this time, to reasonably deadly effect. There are no grand arenas either, with most of the districts where rebellion against President Snow (Sutherland) and the Capitol is brewing reduced to rubble and skeletons. District 12 has been wiped out following Katniss’s act of defiance, and she wakes up in District 13, where an entire country has moved to a dreary concrete underground, led by President Coin (Moore).
Plutarch (Hoffman) is Coin’s chief advisor, and having observed Katniss from close quarters, he urges the President to project her as the face of the uprising against Panem, so as to rally the other districts around their fight. For this, they decide to shoot propaganda videos. Katniss discovers that her chief make-up artist, Effie (Elizabeth Banks), is also being held in District 13 against her meek protests, as is a sober Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). The first of those videos are laughable affairs as Katniss, heavily made up and bearing her bow and arrow, is made to stand against a screen and say well-rehearsed lines. They realise soon enough that it’s better to take Katniss in the midst of suffering people and let her be the natural leader she is.
It’s a good enough ploy a couple of times in Mockingjay – I before it becomes repetitive and even a wee bit exploitative. Meanwhile, Peeta (Hutcherson) keeps popping up on Capitol TV, interviewed by Caesar (Stanley Tucci), urging Katniss to take a backseat even as he looks increasingly drawn and tortured himself. It’s hard to believe anyone can think this is coming straight from Peeta’s heart, but apparently people are suckers.
We know how it’s all going to end, and perhaps even how it’s all going to start. Still it’s one of those films which — even if by commercial design, to milk the maximum out of a successful franchise — takes a pause to give you an idea of what lies in the interrgenum. Of the small lives lost, the little sacrifices made, the unnoticed efforts deployed, and even the waiting and watching before it all blows up.
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