‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ review: A faithful but lacking adaptation

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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Mockingjay – Part 1 review in a nutshell

While it’s a mostly faithful adaptation, it feels lacking, because Katniss’ internal monologues brought the book to life. Here, they’ve been replaced by stares.

Click here or scroll below for where to watch Mockingjay – Part 1.

Update: You can also check out my reviews of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay – Part 2 here.

Movie synopsis

In the wake of Katniss and the remaining tributes’ rescue from the Quarter Quell arena, they are brought to District 13 where Katniss is recruited to be the symbol of the rebellion under the leadership of President Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee. However, Peeta has been captured by the Capitol, and President Snow has plans to use him to break Katniss.

Mockingjay – Part 1 movie review (with little to no spoilers)

Katniss, or rather, the people egging her on, wages a propaganda war against the Capitol in this installment, which means lots of scenes in a dull grey bunker in District 13. Perhaps not very exciting — many critics have bemoaned the lack of action and the fact that it feels like a “Part 1” — but I feel it’s fine for the most part. But that’s because I read the book and know what will happen. Those who didn’t read them will surely feel that it’s draggy and incomplete. I still much prefer Catching Fire though, because as mentioned in my review last year, it was adapted from my favourite book in the series with lots of good, plotty action, and shit hasn’t hit the fan yet.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee) and Julianne Moore (President Coin) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee) and Julianne Moore (President Coin) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Mockingjay – Part 1 is as true to the book as it can possibly be, even with the addition of Effie in District 13, but there is still something I feel a little lacking from it. Maybe because they truncated parts of the book which I really enjoyed, like Finnick in his fragile mental state, his more active role in shooting the propos and supporting Katniss in their mutual anxiety over their loved ones in the Capitol, Katniss’ interactions and observations about the people in District 13, all the crowded scenes in Command which have mostly been reduced to just Plutarch, Coin and Katniss, etc.

I understand the reason for not including all these things, but they added flavour to the story, which in the movie felt bland at times, since all the interesting bits in the book were from Katniss’ internal monologues and her point of view. These were replaced by intense stares on Jennifer Lawrence’s part, and while she’s great, a movie cannot survive on meaningful looks alone. At least, not this movie.

Katniss receives a message from President Snow when she returns to the bombed-out District 12
One of the vital internal monologue scenes which were replaced by stares.

One of the parts I felt was especially shortchanged was Finnick’s revelation that the Victors were sold as sex slaves after the Games. In the book, it comes as a shock and you’re hooked as he reveals all the dirty secrets of the Capitol; but here, it was intercut and had to vie with the more exciting shots of Peeta’s rescue team in action, so the political and ethical ramifications of Finnick’s speech cannot help but be lost.

Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair spilling the secrets of the Capitol
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, where he was sadly underserved

I’m also not a fan of Katniss talking to President Snow directly — it felt forced into the scene — but her reaction afterwards when she cried to Haymitch “Did I lose them both tonight?! I lost them both tonight!” was terrific.

And “The Hanging Tree”! That was a scene I wasn’t sure would make it into the movie as it didn’t seem very cinematic, but the end result was beyond anything I could have dreamt. The tune and accompaniment is so haunting — I’m amazed at how well it matched the lyrics in the book — and was made doubly poignant when they segued into a scene of one of the districts launching a sacrificial attack on the Peacekeepers. What the movies have always done better is showing the fight in the districts, and with the song in the background, it became the best scene in the movie, hands down. Jennifer Lawrence carried the song beautifully, despite her claims that she can’t sing. (Then again, it’s a simple tune, so it would have been difficult for her to *not* sing it well.)

I would have liked more Haymitch and him still being a mentor to Katniss though the games are over. Especially the part where Katniss only wanted to go to him for comfort after she realises that Peeta is suffering due to her being the Mockingjay, because “he loves Peeta, too”. I feel that it wasn’t acknowledged in the film that besides Katniss, Haymitch was the other person left in District 12 who truly cared for Peeta’s well-being. And I also wanted Katniss to completely break down after that scene, but they only went halfway with her refusing to do the propos.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

I was guessing that they would end the movie with “Send me to District Two”, but what they decided on wasn’t bad, especially with her shell-shocked expression and red eyes watching Peeta go absolutely berserk, overlaid with the contrast of President Coin giving a triumphant speech. But I would like to see how they are going to squeeze Finnick and Annie’s wedding, the whole attack in District Two, and then their training, actual attack on the Capitol AND the aftermath into the next movie.

Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne) and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) in District 8
Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne) and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

(On a side note: I HATE people who use their phones in the cinema. There was an IDIOT a few rows down who decided that he had to send all his messages, or whatever it was he was doing instead of watching the movie, during the first 10 to 15 minutes, and the bright screen was so distracting I missed parts of the dialogue. In the end a guy a few seats away in the row behind him couldn’t take it anymore and leaned over to tell him to stop using his phone, and he finally desisted. But gosh, did I want to punch him!)

Where to watch Mockingjay – Part 1

Streaming services: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is not on Netflix Singapore or US, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. You can try Netflix in other countries like Canada, Australia, India, the Netherlands and Japan though.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Microsoft, Redbox

(Most of these rental/purchase links aren’t for Singapore viewers, so if you’re in Singapore and you really want to watch it, you’ll need a VPN if you don’t already have one. ? I’m using NordVPN, which costs US$125.64 for 3 years. It’s even cheaper if you have a Shopback or Rakuten account (formerly known as Ebates) and activate your cashback before your purchase.)

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