Lawrence soars as the Mockingjay in Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1Is there anything Jennifer Lawrence can’t do? It’s no secret I love The Hunger Games franchise and Lawrence’s work as Katniss Everdeen. In this franchise I believe she’s been her strongest, ever. Forget Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle – neither movie has given us the emotional range, character depth, or beautiful restraint The Hunger Games has. I honestly believe the Academy gets it wrong every year they nominate her for the David O. Russell “indie,” over this highly successful franchise.

Why can’t she be nominated for a blockbuster?

As Katniss, Lawrence has consistently delivered riveting performances – and in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, she does it again. Whether she’s acting as the beacon of hope for the people of Panem – or if she’s caught in a close-up – or reacting to Peeta’s messages from the Capitol – or [surprisingly] singing, she’s on-point. Her work deserves recognition – and in the absence of a David O. Russell collaboration this year (she and David O. Russell have Joy coming in December 2015), hopefully she’ll finally get the nod for giving Katniss life!

I can’t say I’ll be surprised if she’s overlooked, though – in favor of an actress from a quieter, more perceptively “artsy” movie – but I think it’d be a mistake. It’s been widely discussed online that leading roles for actresses – and strong performances filling those roles have been scarce this year. Yet, here we have Jennifer Lawrence – giving us a character that eclipses her celebrity. When you look at that screen – despite her huge success – you don’t think, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence.” You convincingly say, “That’s Katniss Everdeen.”

That deserves recognition – at the very least, a nomination.

Effie Trinket - MockingjayAs for the movie itself. I liked it. I really did. The continued work of Lawrence’s co-stars keeps me intrigued and interested. There’s never a spare moment wasted with this group of talent. Just as I’ve been vocal about Jennifer Lawrence’s performances, I’ve also championed Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I love her. The way she presents the character is magnificent – especially in this installment with a more restrictive color and costuming palette. She adds just the right amount of humor and seriousness – and I think she too is overlooked – like much of this franchise has been.

From the start, The Hunger Games has presented an intriguing concept – and it’s ignited a “what if” discussion about the future and the possibility of this type of life. That premise has resonated with people – and in turn we’ve grown attached to these movies and characters (or, as least I have). The films have been exquisitely made and on various technical levels (especially costume design, score and editing) they excel. This movie is quieter and more brooding – to prepare us for what should be an adrenaline-inducing and emotional conclusion to The Hunger Games.

Mockingjay Part 1 serves the purpose of getting us there – and that’s okay. It’s nice to take a break from the action and to explore the characters in the wake of the Quarter Quell. For an example of this, look to any scene with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Hutcherson was good before – primarily because of his interactions with Katniss, but without her, the character’s propelled to the next level. Something’s wrong – he’s notably darker – and now, Peeta is his own entity. In some form, he can exist without Katniss.

I’ve skimmed over some of the reviews for Mockingjay Part 1 – and the reception’s been a little more mixed than positive (like the first two films) – and all fingers seem to be pointing to the lack of action. I, for one, am entirely fine with a story taking precedence over explosions in a big-budget feature film. I commend director Francis Lawrence for providing us with an opportunity for that. Surely he had to know it’d be a less popular, but necessary, decision.

Francis Lawrence has certainly added his signature to the franchise, earning more critical acclaim. Unlike the first installment, Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 look and feel big-budget, polished and more well-made overall. Though I feel like Gary Ross’ initial interpretation – though it was a little grittier, shakier and in your face – was stylistically more appropriate for the franchise. Honestly, I would be in favor of more close-ups and less wide shots in the second and third movies. The way Ross did it makes it feel a little darker; the way Francis Lawrence does it makes it feel more cinematic – more beautiful. I’d prefer an in-between – and that’s almost exactly what is delivered with Mockingjay Part 1. Perhaps Mockingjay Part 2 can be The Hunger Games we’re all craving!

Grade: B+

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