The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt and Suzanne Collins and starring Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Dexter Sol Ansell, Rosa Gotzler, Clemens Schick, Fionnula Flanagan, Hunter Schafer, Ashley Liao, Joshua Kantara, Amelie Hoeferle, Ayomide Adegun and Max Raphael.
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games prequel book, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, was a great read with plenty of deep philosophical insights. My takeaway from the book and the new film version of the book is that all is not fair in love and war. In the movie, Tom Blyth plays the infamous Coriolanus Snow, a role made famous by Donald Sutherland in the old The Hunger Games movies. Calling those movies old may seem like a little bit of a stretch but the last one came out about eight years ago. Blyth plays a young Snow with passion and fury in director Francis Lawrence’s fascinating new prequel picture.
However, the real surprise is the outstanding performance of Rachel Zegler as the would-be love of Snow’s life, Lucy Gray Baird. The new picture primarily showcases the 10th Hunger Games in the movie’s science fiction world where people are forced to fight to the death. As the film opens, Snow is sponsoring her, if you will, as a mentor in the games and the two characters have a connection that is hard to dismiss. Lucy throws a snake in the back of the mayor’s daughter’s dress and can belt out a tune of hope even in a time of despair, hence the second half of the movie’s title, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The snakes part is a bit more involved, though.
Viola Davis is by far the best thing about the supporting cast in Lawrence’s dark and dreary movie. Davis plays Dr. Volumnia Gaul. Davis is saturated in makeup and lipstick here and has two different colored eyes. Gaul is a vicious force to be reckoned with. She psychologically tests a female school partner of Snow’s. Her name is Clemensia (Ashley Liao). When Clemensia says she worked with Snow on certain ideas to boost ratings in the Hunger Games, Gaul gives her a test. Gaul tosses a letter into a bottle of snakes that will recognize the scent of the person who wrote the suggestions and Clemensia must try to retrieve the letter without getting bitten by the snakes. I won’t tell you if she succeeds.
The bond between Snow and Baird is really interesting. This movie develops their character interaction flawlessly but towards the end, focuses more on Snow than Baird. This could have easily become Baird’s movie but instead becomes Snow’s as was predicted given the nature of the book. Though Baird’s fiery determination is center stage in the picture, it is Snow’s life lessons that take precedence and drive the plot. There’s deception at every corner and a bunch of deceit thrown into the movie for good measure. One sad scene has a female hunger game participant who has tuberculosis accidentally drinking rat poison and dying. Don’t get too attached to the secondary characters in the movie.
Baird is the District 12 woman who shows us how to survive at any cost possible. There are some action sequences that are first-rate as Baird dodges weapons and keeps herself in the fight to stay alive. They could have easily tossed the Bee Gees song on the soundtrack, “Stayin’ Alive” and it would fit perfectly. Zegler proves to audiences that her turn in West Side Story was no fluke. She’s quite an accomplished actress, bringing to life a fleshed-out woman who has heart and determination. Blyth never ceases to amaze and his scenes towards the ending of the movie become some of the most compelling ones in the picture. His character is in a fight with himself to preserve some sort of relevance in his life.
Jason Schwartzman is back as Lucretius, the host of the televised Hunger Games. Schwartzman gets some of the movie’s wittiest dialogue and cracks some hilarious one-liners throughout. Don’t forget Peter Dinklage as Highbottom who is the real creator of the Hunger Games but actually conceived the idea in a way that will certainly surprise audiences as it is revealed towards the film’s end.
There is some steamy romance in Lawrence’s movie but it is undercut by the dark nature of the themes that the movie presents. Still, there is some genuine chemistry between Zegler and Blyth that keeps the movie feeling grounded in some sort of relatable reality even though most of the film has that depressing and hopeless feeling so it could have used more sincerity integrated into it. Since Blyth is becoming a villain by the film’s end, it’s clear from the outset that the movie won’t be leading anywhere too nice. Expect plenty of twists and turns in the plot throughout.
Viola Davis wows as the central baddie here and this is one of her best performances outside of her straight dramatic work. Davis revels in her wicked characterization and has a great time on-screen. The audience will love to hate her. Dinklage is predictably top-notch in a relatively minor role since his character disappears from the action for quite a while.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a film I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Reading the book first may have hurt the movie a bit for me. However fans of the Jennifer Lawrence action pictures are going to enjoy seeing the origin story of Snow and will be more forgiving in terms of some of the liberties the movie takes with the book. I still recommend Lawrence’s new film and believe it will be more enjoyable to people who haven’t read the book but have seen the other films in the franchise.
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