-- Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth Rated PG-13 Four out of five stars
Following the “electric” and explosive ending of the Quarter Quell in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen wakes up in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" not exactly sure what happened or where she is. She soon finds out: she’s in District 13, a subterranean, utilitarian city led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has convinced Coin that Katniss needs to be the face of the revolution against the Capitol.
For her part, an unconvinced Katniss is furious they rescued her and left Peta (Josh Hutcherson), along with a few other tributes, behind to die. But when they take her to District 8 to see the brutality of the Capitol, she decides to help. She becomes the Mockingjay, the symbol Katniss made famous with her rebellious attitude during "The Hunger Games."
Katniss is also reunited with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), now a soldier in the rebellion. They still have feelings for each other, but though they grew up together and shared some tough experiences, they didn’t go through two Hunger Games together. That very unique bonding experience happened with Katniss and Peta, and now Peta’s dead – or is he? Katniss is stunned when Peta appears on Capitol TV with Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman and tries to convince Katniss and the rebels that theirs is a lost cause.
Confession: When it came to the book, I couldn’t get past page 50 of Mockingjay. I tried, twice, but I got sick of Katniss. Got sick of Panem, sick of Peta and sick of Gale. It felt to me like author Suzanne Collins was trying too hard to milk the series.
On the flip side, I could probably watch "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" many times. Director Frances Lawrence, along with some help from Collins, does an outstanding job turning the books into thrilling, bold and somewhat realistic fare. A considerable amount of credit also must go to casting director Debra Zane. At this point, it’s obvious Jennifer Lawrence was born to play Katniss Everdeen but adding the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch and Julianne Moore as President Coin was genius. And let’s not forget the incomparable Donald Sutherland as the maniacal President Snow, and the comic relief provided by Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy.
This is the darkest and edgiest of the three "Hunger Games" movies, and the most satisfying – even though the cliffhanger non-ending doesn’t resolve anything. That’ll have to wait for "Mockingjay -- Part 2."