Katniss, dressed to kill.

Katniss, dressed to kill.

The third movie of The Hunger Games had more obstacles to overcome than previous episodes. For starters, the book -“Mockingjay”- is the most maligned of the series, as the exploration of the outside world doesn’t quite match the tightly controlled universe of the games (also, the writing is not up to par for some reason). Furthermore, audiences are getting wary of the strategy of splitting the final book in two movies. Sure, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was good enough to support the gimmick (barely), but from then on is debatable.

For the first hour, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 pulls it off. It builds on the most interesting aspect of the saga -propaganda and mass manipulation- and riffs on it. Unfortunately, the second half is mostly focused on inconsequential action and Katniss’ love life, easily the most unessential aspect of the saga (Gale is a bore and Peeta is as bland as white bread).

Following the disastrous Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) was rescued by the thought to be defunct District 13. The underground community is ruled by President Coin (the always welcome Julianne Moore), a benevolent autocrat who is trying to prompt a revolution in the remaining colonies against the Capitol. With that in mind, Coin and former head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) try to turn Katniss into a post-apocalyptic Ché Guevara.

Katniss, however, is in poor shape. Besides a serious case of PTSD, there is the issue of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the hands of the ever nasty President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Her Hunger Games’ partner is being used by the Capitol to quash the revolt via meticulously scripted interviews. Also, while in general Katniss agrees with the idea of an uprising, she is not sold in becoming the emblematic figure of said movement.

The acting elevates the film in many ways. Jennifer Lawrence continues to embody Katniss to perfection. The scenes between Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman are so strong that in a different, better world, could amount to a movie of their own.

Mockingjay – Part 1 reminded me of The Drop, a little seen crime drama that doubles as James Gandolfini’s swan song. In The Drop, Gandolfini uses his stock in trade as effectively as always. In Mockingjay, Philip Seymour Hoffman shows yet another persona, a fully fleshed character different from all the others he played. While Gandolfini left one indelible creation, Hoffman’s potential still feels limitless, ten months after his death.

Three prairie dogs on fire. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is now playing.