Fri | Dec 1, 2023

‘The Hunger Games: A ballad of songbirds and snakes’ a blockbuster drama

Published:Monday | November 20, 2023 | 12:09 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Viola Davis as Dr Volumnia.
Viola Davis as Dr Volumnia.
Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow.
Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow.

Taking on the untold history of a villain is no simple task. After all, Darth Vader becomes far less threatening when he’s depicted as a child tinkering with droids. Show too much innocence lost before the downfall, and there starts to be a disconnect to the evil persona. The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes seeks to tell the story of its biggest bad, President Snow himself, showing his rise to power and the people he stepped on to get there.

The film lives up to its lofty subtitle. Like a true ballad, it’s a sprawling epic, telling a grandiose tale with dizzying twists and turns. Some come in the form of shock and awe, with the film jolting the audience with random acts of violence in a moment of serenity. Others start with a simmer, bubbling up until boiling over and changing the characters for good.

Unlike Katniss Everdeen’s quest for rebellion, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is a less hopeful story. Coriolanus Snow is the impoverished heir to his father’s legacy hoping to restore it to its former glory. He’s ambitious, but not without a heart, one that starts to stir the second he lays eyes on Lucy Gray, a name the film wants you to know, given it gets repeated nearly 100 times.

Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth carry the film, with Zegler’s singing ability put to good use. She belts her way into the hearts of the viewers at home, as they wait with baited breath for her to strike a killing blow in the 10th annual hunger games. The twisted romance across classes is gripping, with Blythe continuously conflicted, caught between his ambition and a forbidden romance, and Zegler endearing with her southern drawl, and caught between her head and her heart.

All of this goes on while Viola Davis swings for the fences with her mesmerising portrayal of Dr. Volumina Gaul. A modern-day Dr. Frankfurter, Viola is a mad scientist, constantly devising deadly tests, and laying traps in mere conversations. At the same time, Peter Dinklage brings his unique brand of shame as Dean Casca Highbottom. As the inventor of the games he’s haunted by his contribution to the depravity which is now served as entertainment.

The Hunger Games are merely a puzzle piece to the big picture. The film strips the games down to the basics, and focuses on character moments rather than flashy effects. Most attempts to enrich a film series come off like half-baked cash grabs. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes its time giving you something worth caring about. It’s top-notch blockbuster drama, and leaves you eager for more. It’s a strong start to the next big cinema event that audiences have been waiting for.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.