With the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games, I have to be honest, I watched some of the other films but they didn’t really catch on with me. When I watched the trailer for The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, it was different. I was captivated by the cast, with some amazing performers like Peter Dinklage and Viola Davis. I also found the story intriguing. After attending the premier of the film, I found myself completely absorbed by powerful acting, the enchanting vocals of Rachel Zegler and the outstanding transformation of the character of Coriolanus Snow.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is a dystopian action film directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt based on the novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. It is a prequel to the Hunger Games and the fifth film in the installment. The movie focuses on Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) long before he becomes the tyrannical president of Panem. In the film, he is an eighteen year old helping his once proud family survive a fall from grace, protecting his grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer). He attends school with friend Serjanus Plinth (Josh Andres Rivera) in the hopes of attending university. With the 10th annual Hunger Games approaching, he finds that the rules have been changed by Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the games. Casca assigns students, including Snow, to mentor the tributes. After Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from district twelve, Snow’s tribute, gets the attention of Panem by singing defiantly at the Reaping, Snow hatches a plan to turn the odds in their favor. He curries favor with Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), the game master. Snow and Lucy must race against time to ultimately reveal who is a songbird and who is a snake. The film also stars Jason Schwartzman as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman who hosts the games.
One of the aspects that I was fascinated by was how the writing completely transforms the character of Coriolanus Snow, allowing the viewer to empathize and care about the character despite knowing what he is like in the future. The writing gives hints to his nature but also shows reasons for his behavior. It is a powerful depiction of a character descending into darkness. The relationships between him and the others he interacts with are complicated. With Serjanus Plinth, it is made complex by the Plinth family wealth. Casca is antagonistic toward Snow and Gaul sees herself in him.With Lucy, there is fascination and the feel of a kindred soul but the choices that each makes will change the outcome of who they become. The writing made me care about Snow, despite knowing his ultimate fate and that is incredible.
I also like how we see how Gaul uses the games to manipulate and drive the viewers who watch it. The Hunger Games nominally are about keeping the districts in check but it does more, illustrating what humanity is capable of. Gaul sees the worst and sees it in those around her. The writers do a great job with the metaphor of snakes and songbirds, showing that it is the choices that you make that determine what is in your soul, and you can decide to make better choices.
The musical performances by Rachel Zegler truly are phenomenal. She performs with beauty, grace, and power, adding a haunting quality to several scenes and her voice so perfectly captures the idea of the songbird, that music keeps us alive even in the darkest times. As Lucy, the songs capture attention and help drive the idea of freedom from the tyranny of Panem.
The performances of the actors are powerful. Tom Blyth as young Snow is amazing, illustrating a nuanced performance that shows humanity and that Snow is a survivor. His chemistry with both Rachel Zegler who plays Lucy and Josh Andres Rivera who plays Serjanus is emotional and compelling. All three demonstrate the complexity of the relationships and how different each is when it comes to what they are willing to sacrifice to survive. As already stated Rachel Zegler is an incredible singer but her acting is equal to Tom Blyth in emotion. Josh Andres Rivera is touching and heartbreaking as Serjanus. Hunter Schafer is compelling Tigris, cousin to Snow. She illustrates beautiful empathy. Viola Davis is wicked good as Gaul, doing a perfect portrayal of evil. Peter Dinklage is equally compelling as Casca Highbottom, also showing depths of emotion in his portrayal.
The biggest issue I did have was that the film is truly long. It is three acts and while most of it is powerful and kept me engaged, I could see moments that might have been trimmed away to give us a shorter film. There are some predictable actions but that is the risk with a prequel. Despite the length, the film is engaging, the characters complex with powerful acting and emotional choices.
If you loved The Hunger Games, you will want to see this prequel. It is an incredible transformation of Snow’s character, it has emotional and complex performances and anyone who’s seen the other films will want to watch to see how Snow becomes what it is in the future. The music is incredible, Rachel Zegler is enchanting with her vocals and the lyrics enhance the emotional quality of the film. Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage were at their finest and the other actors, Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler and Josh Andres Rivera are phenomenal. The film illustrates the idea of moral choices just like the original Hunger Games and I thoroughly enjoyed the complexity, the emotions and the story.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 mockingjays