Only in the movie business could someone sell such shoddy merchandise and expect people to buy it. If “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” were an appliance, it would be a broken toaster that people would toss in the garbage. Except that analogy is too kind, in that “Mockingjay” would be half a toaster.
It’s half a movie – half of a stretched out, very bad movie – in which the most active thing Jennifer Lawrence gets to do is walk on different piles of rubble and look upset. First she goes to the rubble that used to be District 12 and looks upset there. Then she goes back there and looks around to get upset again. Later, she walks outside to see the rubble caused by the bombing of District 13. This upsets her, too. Otherwise, she gets to go outdoors and walk around about as little as Bruno Ganz did as Hitler in “Downfall.”
The second time, Jennifer – or rather, Katniss – goes back to the ruins of her home, she is with a camera crew making a short propaganda film. Katniss is now the face of the revolution, someone the president (a slumming Julianne Moore) hopes will inspire all the districts to rise up against the evil Capitol. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true: A large part of “Mockingjay” consists of watching Katniss make propaganda films. Then we see the final cut. And then we watch as the rebel’s computer whiz (Jeffrey Wright, also slumming) tries to hack the films onto Capitol TV screens.
Here’s just one problem with that as a plot device. Propaganda, even in a worthy cause, is manipulative and deceptive, but Katniss, as an entirely pure and forthright character, can’t be shown to fully embrace that. Yet she can’t reject it, either, so the movie chooses the only available course of making Katniss oblivious. She’s so appalled that she barely realizes the cameras are running. In these scenes, Lawrence goes around with a stunned look on her face like she can’t believe the awfulness of what she’s seeing – which is kind of how the audience looks.
When she’s not talking into a camera or watching herself on screen, Katniss is watching her boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as a captive on Capitol TV, spouting Capitol propaganda. Each time, he gets a new haircut or a new hair color, she panics or bursts into tears, until this becomes funny.
Didn’t anybody making this movie grasp that Lawrence is the franchise, and that if she’s not given something to do but stand around looking at stuff there is no movie? Does it really require an outsider to present this news? All anyone has to do is look at the success of the previous two films. Instead, we get a dull, claustrophobic, pallid-looking film about people looking into and talking at screens. When the end finally comes, it’s from out of nowhere, except it’s not really an ending, more like a work stoppage.
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is back as one of the rebel leaders, and to see him here with his wide, pasty, beautiful face that we thought we liked and only realized we loved when it was gone – to see him using that face to inject notes of humanity and feeling into a movie that has neither, brings a sad feeling. Taking part in a film this lousy is not what a man does at the end of his life if he knows it’s the end of his life. This is not how Hoffman would have wanted to go out.
At least he has the one moment to take from the wreckage. At one point Hoffman, as one of the rebel leaders, says with an extra emphasis that seems peculiar yet fitting: “Anyone can be replaced!” The line hovers in the air as a whole audience takes it in and realizes it’s just not true. Some people are irreplaceable.