Film reviews: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, with Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. Picture: AP
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, with Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. Picture: AP
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IN AN updated dictionary of received ideas, the entry for Jennifer Lawrence would state that no matter how awful the film, she can do no wrong.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (12A)

Director: Francis Lawrence

Running time: 123 minutes

Star rating: ***

In the course of Mockingjay – Part 1, however, there’s an incidental jolt: Jennifer Lawrence acting badly.

Lawrence has brought an unforced acting style into Hunger Games’ preposterous intrigues, forging a bond with an audience that remains air-tight through two films in which teenagers engage in modern gladiatorial combat for the amusement of the dystopian empire of Panem. At the end of Catching Fire, Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen had become a symbol of rebellion, ending the games for President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Now in Mockingjay – Part 1, she’s hiding out in an underground bunker where the designers seem to have used 1984 as a style bible.

Appearance is on everyone’s mind: the rebels’ chilly President Coin (Julianne Moore) has been persuaded by her spin doctor Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a final substantial role) that Katniss should be the focal point of their propaganda videos. Alas, when they try her out in a studio, her delivery is less Liberty from the French Revolution and more like a turn from Women’s Institute panto.

Lawrence has a lot of fun pretending to be an awful actress, and it’s a rare, sly, subversive scene in a film that feels very much like what it is – 50 per cent of a book, halved to keep a lucrative franchise going.

“It’s the worst terror in the world waiting for something,” Coin tells Katniss. Ain’t that the truth: Mockingjay – Part 1 is entirely about marking time until Part 2 comes along and wraps things up, which makes it a limited pleasure unless you are a hardcore Lawrence fan. Even for a young adult movie, this is not a subtle piece of work, ringing every good deed by Katniss with a halo and boo-hissing her evil foe President Snow.

Sutherland has been shown toying with white flowers since Hunger Games, but Mockingjay just can’t leave the symbolism alone. When Katniss impulsively decides to visit the ruins of her former home town, she finds a single white bud on her old writing desk. Later there’s some chatty exposition about what the flowers conceal, followed by a cascade of blooms when another city is reduced to rubble. Things may be bad for the citizens of Panem, but not if you are a florist.

The malevolent colour-coding even extends to Katniss’s reality TV partner and public boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been captured by the president, tortured, then forced to go on TV as a pro-state propaganda tool, dressed in a luminously white suit. The film’s overly laminated deliberateness is telegraphing Snow’s influence, but distractingly also reminds us that so far, no-one has made a movie version of Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased).

Few multipart movies end elegantly, especially when they are chopped for profit rather than dramatic impact. Mockingjay is no more dextrous than Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, or The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug; you might call its final scene a cliffhanger, but it’s more like watching your cast rev up and drive towards a wall at high speed, then have the cinema hit the lights and tell us all to come back next year.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

On general release


Horrible Bosses 2 (15)

Star rating: **

I used to like Jason Bateman, a reliable straight man and ensemble player with a light touch, regardless of the outrages being perpetrated around him in films such as Identity Thief or The Change-Up. Bateman even has a patented expression of strained control that I look forward to seeing in every film; a look which also says “this is not the regular belt hole I use”.

Jason and I have been through a lot together, but his predilection for exhausted menopausal vehicles such as Horrible Bosses 2 is putting a strain on our relationship. You may recall Horrible Bosses as a cross between The Hangover and a weekend in a man cave with a bong pipe; a revenge fantasy for middle-aged men about bumping off bullying bosses and getting sexually harassed by Jennifer Aniston.

Horrible Bosses 2 puts the same trio of pals (Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day and Bateman, pictured from left) back to work, although with one boss dead and another (Kevin Spacey) in jail, the guys go into business making a gadget called a Bathroom Buddy. They aim to be benevolent bosses, until a double-cross by a billionaire leaves them facing bankruptcy, so they kidnap his son instead. What follows is a mix of scrotum-centric comedy, unreconstructed jokes about scary black men and unease about Aniston’s predatory dentist. You may laugh a few times but you will feel horrible.

On general release from Friday

I Am Ali (PG)

Star rating: **

Muhammad Ali’s battles were always about more than boxing, which is why he remains a favourite subject for documentarians. Nowadays the problem is finding new sources and fresh approaches. Are you interested in what Tom Jones thinks of Muhammad Ali? Possibly not. But filmmaker Clare Lewins has also accessed a weird new archive: phone calls between The Greatest and his children, going back over 40 years, and recorded by the boxer because he was convinced that everything he did was history. “When I fly on an airplane,” Ali once told film critic Roger Ebert, “I look out of the window and I think, ‘I am the only person that everyone down there knows about.’”

Although affectionate and entertaining, Ali’s phone manner isn’t terribly revelatory, and the rest of this production, made with the co-operation of the Ali family, is reluctant to confront difficult issues such as his rather disloyal behaviour to the mothers of his children, his arrogance, or his battle with Parkinson’s. At best, Lewins’ profile is a reasonable introduction to the charismatic Louisville Lip: at worst, it is a hagiographic cash-grab. It floats by like a butterfly and stings like one too.

On general release from Friday

Winter Sleep (15)

Star rating: ***

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan won this year’s Palme D’Or with this Chekhovian drama about a self-important retired actor who runs a hotel in a remote part of Turkey’s steppe. His much younger wife and recently divorced sister help out, but there are tensions among them – and between the middle-class haves, and the local have-nots. A thoughtful film with rich digressions into character, but its running time of three hours and 16 minutes is hard to justify.

Glasgow Film Theatre until Sunday; Edinburgh Filmhouse, Friday until 11 December