Astonishing but true: this series seems to get better with
each installment. Diehard fans of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books may disagree, as this penultimate episode
doesn’t involve the games at all, but there is still a great deal at stake. That
we not only understand that but actually feel
it is what sets this film apart from so many sagas that aspire to the success
this series has attained.
Having dismantled the cruelly ritualistic games, Katniss
Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13 of Panem and obliged
to align herself with President Coin (series newcomer Julianne Moore). Katniss
is naturally wary of any leader but, with the encouragement of her remaining
allies, she allows herself to become the public face of a rebellion. It isn’t
easy to stand up to the coolly manipulative President Snow (Donald Sutherland)
but she does. Then she learns the fate of her comrade Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)
and everything changes.
We are carried along on this journey by the soulful presence
of Lawrence, who once again asserts her formidable acting chops. Watch her as
she tries to record a propaganda video for the uprising—an amateur public
speaker mouthing words she doesn’t fully believe—and you’ll see how skillful
she is. By the time she comes around to the cause and feels the fire in her
belly, she expresses that transition just as convincingly. A moment where she
spontaneously sings a grassroots-type song of rebellion could have seemed
forced or contrived, but not the way Lawrence handles it. She is a marvel.
The screenplay is credited to Peter Craig and Danny Strong,
from an adaptation by novelist Suzanne Collins herself. Director Francis
Lawrence has fully realized the future world of the Hunger Games, making ample use of CGI and Philip Messina’s
production design, but never at the expense of the all-important human element.
Lawrence is surrounded, as usual, by a first-rate cast
including Moore, Sutherland, Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth
Banks, and Jeffrey Wright, among others. They are all committed and convincing,
but the real treat is watching Philip Seymour Hoffman as the former game master
who now serves as an advisor to Moore. Removed from a position of power and
awe, he delivers his dialogue in a wonderfully natural, matter-of-fact manner
with a smile on his face. The film is dedicated to his memory, as you might
expect, and while this might not rate alongside his more prestigious work, it
does represent storytelling of a high order, with acting to match.