A Quiet Passion

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Review © Jane Freebury

In her day, the American poet Emily Dickinson was a kind of free thinker and early feminist, but she hardly crossed her front porch into the world. Later in life she hardly left her room. She lived through her words. The writer and recluse has been kept alive by posterity, and is now thrust into public view in this film by Terence Davies.

The filmmaker says that A Quiet Passion is his creative take on the eccentric literary figure, but the film sticks pretty closely to the known facts, and though Davies’ modesty may ward off the fulminating critics, there was little to work with anyway. Dickinson never married, she had a habit of wearing only white—an interesting juxtaposition—and remained in the family home in Massachusetts till her death.

During her lifetime fewer than a dozen of her poems were published and her younger sister arranged for the publication of the vast bulk of her work after she died.

Some of the poetry is heard in voiceover, and suggests valuable insights, but there is too little about her writing. Davies could have at least put more of those poems to work. After all, it seems to have been where she fully expressed herself and how she reached out to the world.

Otherwise, the ambience of mid-19th century piety and seclusion in the Dickinson household is very compelling. The austere and painterly look, the work of cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, creates a cloistered private world in which little alters as the years pass.

However, a slow 360 ° panning shot around the parlour that takes in family members and objects registers subtle change. And at another point, the passage of time is deftly realised at a session with a photographer taking family portraits. This is where the family merges into their older selves, and when Emma Bell, the young Emily, leaves the frame and Cynthia Nixon takes over.

Emma Bell as young Emily

Though her lines can’t have been helpful, Nixon is great in a challenging role. The jarring dialogue and awkward interactions are a major part of the film’s distraction. When I suppose we are meant to lighten up, we are treated to the tiresome, formulaic wit of Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), a friend who has an inexplicable knack for entertaining Emily and her devoted sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle).

It’s not unduly long. Most films seem to unspool at around two hours these days, and some of the best ever are still going strong well after that, with dialogue in a language other than English to boot.

There are lengthy deathbed scenes, and towards the end of Emily’s life the camera rubbernecks into her freshly dug grave. A strange shot that may coincide with the poet’s gloomy outlook. A home overlooking a cemetery would have had some impact, one imagines.

Aside from its impressive and uncompromising authenticity, A Quiet Passion is difficult and sometimes gruelling.  Veteran auteur Davies, the director of the wonderful Distant Voices, Still Lives, says he is an acquired taste, but may be asking too much of filmgoers here.

3 Stars

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle site

Churchill

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Review © Jane Freebury

The title doesn’t give much away. Just that it’s about the wartime leader, the lion of Britain during the winter of World War II. We can be reasonably sure though that he won’t get the ‘great man’ treatment, and we expect to see what’s under the bowler hat and behind that set expression of grim determination. Someone all too mortal.

The tidy title also suggests bio pic but this Churchill, directed by expat-Aussie Jonathan Teplitsky, with veteran Scottish film and television actor Brian Cox in the lead role, covers just a few short days in the life. The lead up to the D-Day invasion that spearheaded the Allied push into Europe and eventually won the war in 1945.

A film from another key point in WWII, the early evacuation of troops, Dunkirk, is coming very soon. It is directed by action supremo and cine-stylist, Christopher Nolan.

The story of Winston Churchill, voted in 2002 the greatest Briton of all time, ought to be immensely interesting. Maybe even more so with a forthright Scot and an upstart Australian in key creative roles. The Indian director Shekhar Kapur and Australian actress Cate Blanchett did a striking version of Elizabeth, England’s iconic sixteenth century queen. And that worked, no question.

Churchill, scripted by a young British screenwriter and historian, Alex von Tunzelmann, has fairly predictably earned itself a bit of controversy. We have come to expect the knives to come out to excise factual errors, correct perspectives and maybe do worse damage, but the film seems to have come through fairly unscathed.

What struck me is how little we learn about Winston, really. We knew he liked his booze and tobacco, but the film wants us to believe that he was terribly haunted by the debacle of Gallipoli, that he was in charge of in WWI. It was a monumental disaster, but that can’t have been all there was to his issues.

Even a casual reading of his life hints at all sorts of other demons. Neglected as a child, a poor student, questionable judgement during his political career. He suffered from depression and a deep-seated fear of failure. It’s well-known that Churchill was a handful for his darling wife Clemmie, and many others besides. The film could have given all this more coverage, rather than sheeting most of it back to Gallipoli.

Director Jonathan Teplitsky is a talented director with some outstanding work behind him—Better Than Sex, Getting’ Square and Burning Man. He also had substantial international success with Railway Man. It was sensitively made, if given a fairly conventional treatment, and with excellent performances. If only he could have been more flexible and light of foot here.

Apparently Teplitsky was brought on board later in project development. I have a hunch it may have had something to do with the sensitivity he has shown in his films for blokes with issues. Burning Man was about a young man behaving badly as his wife succumbs to terminal cancer, and Railway Man about a traumatised former soldier and prisoner-of-war.

Cox is an excellent Churchill and Miranda Richardson is terrific as his remarkable wife, but the film falls short for lack of insight. Sometimes it lags and feels as though the filmmakers didn’t have quite enough material to work with. The immensity of the subject was a bit daunting after all.

3 Stars

Also published at Canberra Critics Circle

Jasper Jones

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Review by © Jane Freebury

The film of the popular novel by Craig Silvey is not so much about Jasper. It’s about his loyal, younger friend during a life-changing moment while growing up. So, it’s yet another Aussie tale about coming-of-age? Yes, but the difference is that it firmly references the here-and-now and what is shaping our lives today.

Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is a 14-year-old with his life choices ahead of him. Right now, what exercises him most is what book to read and how to bump into a certain young lady, accidentally on purpose.

Then Jasper (Aaron L. McGrath) comes tapping on his bedroom window, a pair of eyes peering through the louvre window one evening. It’s an odd shot that hovers between the dramatic and the comic, and the scenes that ensue are a rather wobbly beginning that pitches Charlie into a deeply compromised situation. We never get to fully understand his motivations. The assistance he provides Jasper implicates him in ways he could not begin to imagine at his age.

The two teenagers live in a town somewhere on the wheatbelt in Western Australia where Jasper, the child of a white man and Aboriginal mother, is deemed an outsider. In 1969, it has been a short while since the referendum that fully recognised Australia’s Aboriginal people.

Corrigan is relatively prosperous, a comfortable, seemingly safe place where people can afford a Holden car and their own house. Some of the outside world intrudes, however. There’s a war in South East Asia and the Vietnamese family of Jasper’s good friend Jeffrey is having a terrible time at the hands of town racists. Sweet, young Eliza Wishart (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s crush, is reading Truman Capote.

It is a telling moment in history to return to. Not so long ago, but it seems like absolutely ages since the closed-in verandahs, the neatly-mown front lawns, and the jaunty cars of the 1960s. On one level this can be a nostalgia trip. On the surface, Corrigan is the kind of place that lives in the collective memory of people of a certain age. But below the images of old Australia beautifully captured in the cinematography, the film exposes harsh and shocking truths that challenge the impulse to nostalgia.

The kids have to deal directly with the town’s problems, while the adult characters seem somehow absent without leave. Hugo Weaving’s ‘Mad Jack’ is also an outcast living on the outskirts of town, but conflicted and ineffectual. Toni Colette, all beehive and bold eyeliner, does a familiar turn as Charlie’s mental mum, a woman unhappy in her marriage—though again we don’t quite understand why. Dan Wyllie, sympathetic as Charlie’s dad who spends most of his time closeted away writing his novel, is the good patriarch in absentia when all goes wrong.

On the other hand, the terrific young actors, Miller and Rice in particular, have to convince us they have been witness to horrific of events that must remain secret while they go about their business. They give little sign of being traumatised by it. Strange. Director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) did not pursue the dark subtext of this story for all it was worth, choosing instead to keep things light where possible, but therein lies some incongruity.

Jasper Jones is a mixed bag, satisfying in parts. What a different story it would have been, if it had been Jasper, the kid of colour centre frame, with his friend Charlie on the sidelines.

3 Stars

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle

 

 

 

Paterson

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Review © by Jane Freebury

 

Would this film have attracted much attention without the name of Jim Jarmusch attached to it?  About a loving and contented couple, each with creative aspirations, it is just a gentle story devised to remind us of the secret to a good life. Which is not to say that Paterson doesn’t have its qualities.

This independent writer-director will be noticed whatever he does. Since distinctive films like Ghost Dog, with its samurai-inspired hitman, and Dead Man, a postmodern take on the western, his reputation has been secured, but he leaves us with too little to work with here. With simplicity the guiding principle in style and subject, this is the story of a modest man who only needs life’s simple pleasures, however, it leaves you feeling a bit bemused and unconvinced, against your better instincts.

So Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and resident of Paterson, New Jersey (a bit cute), wants nothing more from life than to go home in the evening for dinner with his wife, to enjoy a beer at the local, and have the steady job which affords him creative outlet. While at work he can eavesdrop on his passengers’ conversations, meditate on his own life and find the head space for creative reverie. He also writes poetry.

For a few short minutes while alone in the cab of his bus each day, Paterson distils the feelings that have arisen in him. His poetry probably won’t go anywhere, even though Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) encourages him to publish. We see this confirmed when at his invitation, a schoolgirl reads a poem about falling water from her own collection. It is superior. Even so, you gotta have a dream to sustain you in the humdrum everyday.

Laura’s aspirations are loftier. She would love to be a country and western singer, and spends her day at home learning guitar and giving everything in their cottage a makeover in black and white. The black and white cupcakes she cooks for the local fair are snapped up and there is perhaps is the inkling of a suggestion that one day in the future, she will want more from life.

Paterson is nothing like the apocalyptic, digitised, de-sensitising fare that the US movie industry has been feeding into the mainstream for years, and I am grateful for it. There’s no crime, period.  No bus hijacking here, just some mechanical problem for which Paterson has to call the depot. In a context like this, Jarmusch’s film is a standout.

Time has passed Paterson’s residents by, yet the film searches for dignity in its circumstances. There is crumbling infrastructure, there are tall weeds, and some of the people seem to have lost the vitality of their former selves.  Yet the city has a proud industrial past. Its famous sons include Lou Costello of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, the great poet William Carlos Williams, boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The idea for the film was apparently precipitated by Jarmusch’s visit there to research Carlos Williams, one of his favourite poets.

The film’s treatment of Laura is problematic, in my opinion. Her character isn’t well drawn. In an effort to stress the importance of simple pleasures in life, Jarmusch has written Laura as child-like, though undoubtedly not intended that way. The relationship between Paterson and Laura at times resembles that of parent and indulged child, patron and fledgling artist. It is also entirely chaste, which is rather difficult to figure, given Farahani is gorgeous. Perhaps the writer-director’s self-confessed disinclination at representing sex on screen has contributed to this.

So, Paterson, in its determination to make its point about the importance of simple pleasures and the life well lived, strives too hard to bend its material to make it. A pity, because the point is right.

3 Stars

Also published by Canberra Critics Circle

 

 

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

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FFJ poster

by  © Jane Freebury

It’s fine to belt out a song in the shower when you can’t hold a tune, the acoustics are good and no one is listening. But who among us wants to inflict this private pleasure on the rest of the world?

The extraordinary career of Florence Foster Jenkins during the 1930s-1940s in America begs a question or three. Few of which are answered in this pleasant comedy about a silly woman with more money than talent who insisted on appearing on stage in elaborate costumes to sing arias for a round of applause.

Apparently Jenkins got more than that, because sophisticated New Yorkers at her by-invitation-only soirees and music society events clapped hard to disguise the sniggers and the guffaws. She was a standing joke for years before the disastrous Carnegie Hall concert in 1944 and the press exposure that ended her career and, in short order, her life. Why so? We touch on this fleetingly in this new Stephen Frears film – was it the syphilis her husband gave when young?– but it remains pretty much unexamined.

Not one to criticise, British director Stephen Frears brings his light touch to bear on her story. He says Jenkins was preposterous, that he was nonetheless touched by her and it shows, but the best will in the world has bought mixed results, and for this viewer the conclusion that the film hasn’t really got to grips with its subject.

Even the immense talent of Meryl Streep, the antithesis of the woman she was cast to play, can’t compensate for the fact that the script is incurious about what really drove Jenkins, the reputed ‘I can do it. I’ll show them’ mentality, and why she was indulged for so long. Shades of the 21st century comedy of cringe?

Patron of the arts and still an aspiring soprano in her 70s, Florence Foster Jenkins may have been tone deaf and deaf to criticism too, but the problem was really her associates, her common-law husband (Hugh Grant), and all the folk who depended on her for their livelihood in the arts. She was a victim of her own patronage because no one dared to confront her with the truth. She was, like, too big to fail.

We know Streep can do anything, however I think she has done better. Her portrayal of Jenkins as a girlish innocent, manipulated by her fond but faithless husband, and by others who benefitted from her largesse, is sympathetic but not compelling.  Did she need to be quite such a ditz? The steel that Jenkins apparently had in pursuing her career regardless is nowhere to be seen, nor does the Nicholas Martin script explore what it was about New York society at the time that allowed such nonsense to prevail.

In the Orson Welles’ classic of 1941, Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane bought an opera house so that Susan, his wife of meagre talent, could take the stage as an opera singer. She was miserable. Florence needed no such encouragement, and was thrilled with it all. I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.

It’s in character for Frears to tackle stories of significance and lend his generous perspective as in, say, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena or The Queen. It’s what we like about him. Florence Foster Jenkins undoubtedly had a fascinating backstory, however in neither this film nor the current French film Marguerite, also based on her life, do we ever quite get to the bottom of it.

3 Stars

Pawno

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© Jane Freebury

It’s good to know that a hide like a rhinoceros isn’t a prerequisite for working in a cash converter business in multicultural Footscray. A thicker than usual epidermis helps ensure better than breakeven results, but the experience need not shrivel a bloke’s empathy or drain him of human kindness.

It seems it might even inspire creativity. This is the proposition in this good-natured study of people who are doing it tough and reflects the kind of optimism that probably helped get this entirely independently funded production get up in the first place.

Screenwriter and support actor Damien Hill, who lives in Footscray, has a surprise up his sleeve in the closing scenes that turns some of the grim things that you swear you saw on their head. The turn-around may not  work for everyone—it didn’t quite for me—but there’s no reason why the coda can’t, I suppose, when action is confined to a 24-hour period.

Indeed, it is not nearly long enough to get to know the characters who count in this ambitious drama that managed to get a Tom Waits track for next to nothing to set the tone.

John Brumpton brings a cynical but not unsympathetic tolerance to his character Les, the shop owner, a pawnbroker, a world away from the role made forever famous by Rod Steiger’s staggering treatment in 1965. If Les has anything to hide, you feel pretty sure it’s nothing more than some life choices that didn’t deliver. His best attribute is that he’s got time for folks, whatever their hard luck story. That said, right now he has a bad toothache.

His  assistant is young Danny (Hill), a bit of a day-dreamer with a crush on Kate (Maeve Dermody) who works in a bookshop nearby. Danny’s soft romantic heart is a push over for an earnest young man who wants to propose to his girlfriend that evening but can’t quite afford the diamond ring he finds on the tray and thinks will be perfect.

A film set in a pawnshop is ripe with possibilities.  Hill has built into his screenplay so many characters with hints at their own distinctive backstories that the narrative risks haring off in a dozen different directions. That this doesn’t happen is a tribute to the writer, and first-time director Paul Ireland. Is there a TV series in the offing?

A fair proportion of the action takes place outside the shop premises, grounded in the two men who hang out and provide comment, chorus-like, on the neighbourhood. Meet Carlo (Malcolm Kennard) and Pauly (Mark Coles Smith) who anchor the street as they bludge smokes and share meals from the Vietnamese takeaway owned by Lai (Ngoc Phan). Lai is one of the characters who has something to give back to the community, however the way this is expressed is a big misjudgment on a number of levels. On the other hand, the vignette about transgender woman Paige (Daniel Fredericksen) battling life with two young sons, is touching and makes you want to see more.

Pawno flaunts a bit of cheek with a title that sounds like the generic adult movie. There is a bit of sex and also a brutal violent interlude that I’m not convinced we needed, but the engaging cast, including Kerry Armstrong, too little seen these days, bring many of the stories to life.

3 Stars

45 Years

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                                                      Review © Jane Freebury

It was good to hear that the talented, youngish director Andrew Haigh had launched into new territory. He achieved exceptional naturalism in Weekend, about two young men who meet at a club on a one night stand, and he might offer fresh insights into the world of the long-term married. What would he do with this, his third feature?

He was facing tough competition. Long marriages have been the subject of some outstanding films recently, like Mike Leigh’s cosy, comfy Another Year, Roger Michell’s jittery escapade to Paris, Le Week-End, and Michael Haneke’s tour de force, Amour. There is no shortage of potential viewers in this space either, as older audiences fill the cinemas in increasing numbers. A relationship that’s lasted a very long time defies easy explanation and I admire the filmmaker who is brave enough to explore it, let alone dissect it.

Haigh takes us to the home of a retired couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), living a pleasant retired life in Norfolk. Kate is the active former head teacher, Geoff the former manager in the local factory. They have a sweet rural cottage, are respected by former work colleagues, have a wide circle of friends, and have travelled overseas. Eventually we learn that they are childless.

Casting both Rampling and Courtenay in 45 Years suggests that Kate and Geoff were pretty hot property in their day. Rampling’s very presence signifies sensuality while Courtenay was a bit of a lad in his day in sixties classics like Billy Liar. But time has taken its toll and Geoff has had a bypass, has developed a tendency to dither and is a bit of a sad sack.

Out of the blue, a letter arrives from Germany informing Geoff that the body of a young woman once his girlfriend has been found in the glacier fissure into which she fell when they were trekking. Just what she meant to him, and other new facts about this old relationship that ended in such terrible circumstances emerge. The substance of the narrative then becomes how each partner deals with this news.

The British critics have fallen over themselves to garland this film, but I wasn’t that convinced by Geoff’s dilemma. Of course he would feel disoriented and emotional and some, it’s only natural and only natural that Kate might feel a bit uneasy, for a while at least.

Perhaps the problem is in essence their mutual inability to communicate with each other, leaving her alone and him slow to re-affirm his commitment to the marriage.

The sudden, dawning realisation in the final frames is open to several different readings. Empowering or disempowering. You take your pick.

3 Stars

 

 

 

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Boychoir

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Review by © Jane Freebury

It’s just as well this 12-year-old is a fast learner. For a boy who could be headed for institutional care after his mother, a single mom, dies suddenly, he has to make some massive life changes in the first half hour of this film’s life.

Stet (Garrett Wareing) is snatched off the slippery slope of disadvantage because he can sing, like an angel. It’s a gift that sees him placed in a national choral boarding school, Boy Choir, after his father, who has a wife and other children, hands the academy a big fat cheque.

Not only does Stet have to enunciate clearly, read music and learn music theory, he has to fit in, the hardest of hard tasks when the rest of the boys are from backgrounds of privilege. If the academy’s crusty principal (played by Kathy Bates) finds waiting for bad-tempered colleagues like Drake ( Eddie Izzard) to retire ‘a special kind of torture’, then fitting into the hallowed halls at Boy Choir would be just as taxing for a Texan kid with attitude like young Stet. It is surprising that the film doesn’t make as much of this personal journey as you might expect.

Even more pleasing than Bates on screen again, is Dustin Hoffman as the choirmaster Carvelle. Hoffman also gives his character the grit the film needs. He does a less convincing job of a flinty old fossil because, of course, he isn’t as hard as he appears, the point being that he expects high standards and has no time for anything less. The performances by screen veterans Bates and Hoffman, as well as young actor Kevin McHale in the part of house master Wooly, are the backbone of the film.

The other good thing is the choral singing, the film’s expected centrepiece. In particular, there’s a sequence when the boys practise in a chapel with the camera panning the space as they pick up their parts. It’s also the moment when Stet, skulking in the shadows, appears to experience his Damascus moment and is finally inspired to join in.

There are signs like smart phones and rap that this coming-of-age drama is in the present, but the film has a fusty, cloistered look and feel. It could be set in the 1950s like its cousin-in-spirit from 1989, Dead Poets Society was. Why? When the message is clearly an attempt to connect with youth and demonstrate the importance of hard work and discipline. It just ain’t enough to have talent.

Quebecois filmmaker Francois Girard did interesting work on Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould in the 1990s, but his direction is less interesting here. When the singing takes over, however, and when Hoffman steps into frame, we soar to another level.

3 stars

Focus

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Review by © Jane Freebury

In this romantic crime caper, Margot Robbie and Will Smith are well cast as a glamorous pair of grifters, Jess and Nicky, who look like they really should be together. They look great together, two beautiful people in exotic locations like New Orleans and Buenos Aires who can work the floor superbly, picking pockets with guile, style and charm.

After they meet in a bar it turns out they are in the same sort of business. Nicky takes Jess under his wing until she becomes so good he inducts his star intern into the firm, a multi-million dollar industrial scale army of scammers and pick-pockets. No, Nick is not aiming for the one big hit on which he can subsequently retire in Antigua, he’s into ‘volume’.

Jess is all ears and eyes at Nicky’s tutorials in crime. There are a myriad ways to distract and divert attention like wearing a low-cut slinky dress or having someone fake a heart attack while someone else on the team can empty pockets or slip rings and watches away from their moorings. A montage of subliminal messages on the way to a major scam at the Super Dome shows Nicky is into amateur psychology too.

It’s all in the name of fun and co-directors John Requaa and Glenn Ficarra, who have partnered before on Bad Santa and Crazy Stupid Love, keep it light at all times. They had a ‘theatrical pickpocket’ called Apollo Robbins advising them. Robbins has a standalone end credit as the ‘con artist and pickpocket designer’. He is apparently famous for pick pocketing a guard on the security detail for President Carter, so we can imagine that he would know what’s what. (The character with the same name of Apollo is one and the same.)

Nicky, nickname ‘Mellow’, would be the man but for two fatal weaknesses, gambling and now that he’s met her, Jess. Robbie’s Jess is at the heart of the film too, the object of desire in her elegant retro wardrobe like a latter day Grace Kelly.

However, ’tis a pity that in her first lead role since her cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, the Australian actress didn’t pick a project with better results. There’s one too many twists and turns generating a bit of a narrative wobble a couple of key parts that are clumsily overplayed. Robert Taylor’s turn as a crude Australian race driver doesn’t add much either.

Yet, the film’s cheerful theme that everyone’s ‘an easy grift’ makes for buoyant light entertainment, even when it skirts briefly into sex and violence. Focus is not going to stay with you indefinitely, but it is a welcome retrospective on the old movies that did petty crims and swindlers with charm and style.
In a capsule: A romantic old-style crime caper with a few too many plot twists and turns but there’s plenty of style and charm in its lead couple, Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

3 stars

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Review by Jane Freebury

The story of a teenage girl fighting to save the world as we no longer know it, instead of worrying which of the handsome guys hovering around her is ‘the one’, has emerged as another compelling 21st movie phenomenon. Move over Twilight, there’s nothing passive or vaguely insipid about this young woman, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). She’s nothing less than the digital poster girl for the revolution.

Katniss and her generation have inherited an awful mess since war annihilated the states of North America. The cataclysm has let a brutish plutocracy take over, that retains its dominance with an annual gladiatorial ritual that compels each state under its control to sacrifice a young man and woman in a fight to the death. Horrifying as it sounds, let’s not forget that it’s like what the Romans used to do. Like many screen dystopias today, the movie posits two extremes. That of a highly evolved but utterly morally bankrupt elite versus the desperate, half starved masses.

The filmmakers have also raided the postmodern icebox for the ‘look’ of totalitarianism. Looming, oppressive interiors of films set in the Third Reich abound and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis isn’t so far away either. It’s surprising that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his strategists at the Capitol haven’t thought of introducing a fake Katniss to dupe the masses. But then, of course, director Francis Lawrence didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in a movie based on the bestsellers by Suzanne Collins that first appeared in 2008.

Like the Roman goddess Diana, with bow and quiver to hand, Katniss is handmaiden of the justice that has been destroyed in the wars. She is also a champion for the democracy that no longer exists, and brimming with righteous anger. People inside the frame respond to her with the three-fingered salute, a gesture that can get you into trouble in Thailand. Only this week protesters who used it publicly as code for political oppression were, astonishingly, detained.

The series is blessed with the presence of Lawrence whose turns in American Hustle, Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook, easily demonstrate that she is one of the best young American actors of her generation. It was also smart casting to support her with other fine characters like Philip Seymour Hoffman , Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Sutherland too. But why Lawrence is accepting roles in so many action blockbusters now means we won’t see her best work until she gets the genre out of her system.

As a stand-alone, Part 3 (a) of The Hunger Games is heavy on atmos and light on story. More series filler than narrative developer, it relies heavily on its star and what she delivers as its clear-eyed, righteous heroine.

In a capsule: Heavy with dystopian atmos and light on story, this installment relies more on its star and what she delivers as its clear-eyed, righteous heroine.

3 stars