The Hunger Games The Hunger Games
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
dir Francis Lawrence
scr Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt
prd Nina Jacobson, Francis Lawrence, Brad Simpson
with Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Josh Andres Rivera, Hunter Schafer, Fionnula Flanagan, Vaughan Reilly, Dakota Shapiro, Isobel Jesper Jones, Burn Gorman
release US/UK 17.Nov.23
23/US Lionsgate 2h37

davis dinklage schwartzman
See also:
The Hunger Games (2012) Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

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zegler and blyth
Set 64 years before the previous movies, this bleak dramatic thriller traces pivotal events in the life of Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland's character). As before, director Francis Lawrence remains faithful to Suzanne Collins' novel, with high-quality filmmaking and solid performances. But there's little air in the story, as the script races along with an over-serious tone. So it's a rather harrowing depiction of the birth of a sociopath.
As the 10th Hunger Games kick off, teen Coriolanus (Blyth) is assigned to mentor District 12 contender Lucy Gray (Zegler). Goaded by Gamesmaker Gaul (Davis) and Headmaster Highbottom (Dinklage), Coriolanus hopes to make an impression that will help fund university as well as his cousin Tigris (Schafer) and Grandma'am (Flanagan). But carnage begins before the Games start, and Coriolanus has to think fast to help Lucy Gray survive. His classmate Sejanus (Rivera) seems to have too much sympathy for the rebels. And this will be tested as Coriolanus and Sejanus travel to District 12 themselves.
Designed to remind the public what will happen to rebels, the Games force children from the starved separatist districts to fight to the death live on television. Lucy Gray wins over the audience by crooning melodic folksongs in the Games, and elsewhere in the movie. This also pulls in Coriolanus, sparking a romance that seems doomed from the start. But glimmers of hope begin to appear as a series of twists and turns force these young people to come up with clever ways out of perilous situations. Meanwhile, other youth are dying violently around them.

At the centre, Blyth gives Coriolanus a riveting charisma that the characters has yet to tap into. Riddled with self-doubt, he is trying his best, but also listening to the darker voice inside him. This undermines his focal love story with Zegler's quirky, defiant Lucy Gray, who oddly feels sidelined throughout the film. Rivera adds badly needed soulfulness. And starry turns from Davis, Dinklage and Schwartzman (as a TV host) add some rather vicious black humour.

Throughout the film, there are whispered discussions about the nature of humanity, asking whether people are innately good or evil. The Games have been created to appeal to brutal instincts, while Lucy Gray is more optimistic, even if she notes that trust is even more important than love. So it's a problem that she never becomes more essential to the narrative. This is Coriolanus' story, and he's clearly going to become a monster on his own.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 17.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall