Here’s a holiday double feature to be thankful for! The first is a sci-fi adventure franchise that neatly wraps itself up, and the second is a truly artful, old-fashioned romance that may generate a BEST ACTRESS OSCAR nomination!
THE HUNGER GAMES:MOCKINGJAY-Part 2 finds Jennifer Lawrence, older and wiser as Katniss Everdeen, the leader of the rebellion in Panem against the cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the climactic battle of the revolution! With her bow and arrow, eagle eye, and the moral certitude of Joan of Arc, Katniss takes the fight right into the heart of the Capitol, along with her band of renegades. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale are both in love with her, but Peeta who has been tortured and brainwashed, might snap at any moment and kill Katniss, while Gale may have a somewhat different moral compass.
This final installment streamlines its plot, and keeps its eye on the lead up to the final battle, the moral complexity of what is really at stake and what it takes to win. All of the characters have returned, but with markedly less to do.
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch does a bit of angsting; Elizabeth Banks as Effie in her trademark overblown peplums gets an emotional closeup near the end after a few nondescript scenes; Stanley Tucci as smarmy broadcaster Caesar flickers briefly on the big screen while issuing a video news bulletin; we even get a glimpse or two of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee who, in a nice farewell touch, has almost the last word in his final missive to Katniss which is read aloud. Julianne Moore is more centrally involved as President Coin, and Jena Malone makes the most of her scenes as the warrior cynic Johanna.
But Lawrence, thankfully, carries the film, more sullen and bruised than before, with her values intact. She has that thing that makes you understand why anyone would follow her character anywhere, even into the bowels of the Capitol, and against all reason. It’s a good thing because they encounter some rather grueling obstacles along the way; two killer set pieces feature them escaping a flood of black ooze, and a maelstrom of pale, rabid flesh eaters.
Through it all, Katniss never wavers, and the actress absolutely sells it, her clear visage and unwavering gaze a blazing beacon in a turbulent landscape. The conclusion– while a tad anti climactic–feels right, sound, and satisfying.
Then, DO NOT MISS BROOKLYN, not the borough–the movie! This is a stand-out film, an absolutely poignant tale about an Irish immigrant girl who leaves her homeland, close family, and friends and sets out for America in the 1950’s where her future seems to beckon. Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis the young woman who sets sail and lands in Brooklyn, living in a boarding house of young women run by Mrs. Kehoe, a tough warm-hearted Julie Walters, who makes sure the girls mind their manners at the dinner table and beyond.
Eilis is a self-possessed young woman who takes her time to get her bearings, has a head for numbers, and an open-heart. She is careful– but not so careful that she can avoid romantic complications. Soon a handsome young Italian falls for her– the irresistible Emory Cohen who takes her home to meet his family. She practices “spaghetti twirling” before she gets there.
The tale unfolds gently, so gently we can hardly believe the choices Eilis eventually faces as she navigates her way through it all– the pangs of loneliness, first love, sudden tragedy, and yet another possible future. The screenplay by the wonderful Nick Hornby (“About a Boy,” “High Fidelity”) captures the sweet innocence and social decorum of the times, when shop girls wore uniforms and were expected to be polite, when family dinner was crucial, and small towns were cruel. The tone is tender without ever collapsing into easy sentiment, or easy answers. The girl is caught between the rolling green and Irish sea and the rough and tumble promise of Brooklyn in the 50’s, and that tension feels rich and real.
Most of all, what holds us fast from first frame to last, is the deep and elegant performance by Saoirse Ronan. Her Eilish grows from a homesick girl into an intelligent young woman with a complex inner life, a radiant vitality, and grace to spare as she figures out who she is and what she wants, without ever losing her dignity or her sense of self. There are heartbreaking decisions and no simple solutions. Ronan pierces us with the understated strength, subtlety, and utter charm of her performance. I am predicting an Oscar nomination here for Best Actress.