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Linden’s Cut: ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Review

Rose Donnelly

Nearly a decade after “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” wrapped up the popular series, “The Hunger Games” franchise has returned to theaters, This time with a prequel, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” This film interested me because even though I’ve only seen the first film and haven’t read any of the books, I was curious to see the main villain, President Coriolanus Snow’s backstory. The result: A flawed but well made prequel that will satisfy many fans.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is directed by Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 and 2”) and stars Tom Blyth (“Benediction”) and Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”) as a young Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray Baird. Set decades before the events of the first film, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow has a rough life coming from a destitute background. The 10th annual Hunger Games are soon coming up and he is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird, a tribute from District 12.

The best thing I can say about this are the action sequences which are a critical part to the series. Given the subject matter, they are visceral, intense, gritty and keep you on the edge of your seat. The Hunger Games force each of the 12 districts to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death until a lone survivor remains.

The performances for the most part are very good. Tom Blyth is excellent in the role, and despite looking older than 18, he looks like a young Snow and he makes his character very compelling. I was interested to see where his character was going despite knowing where it leads.

Despite Rachel Zegler’s controversial comments on her upcoming role in “Snow White,” I have to give credit where credit is due and say that she did a good job. Although her Appalachian accent was distracting, it didn’t take away from her performance as Lucy Gray and she has a nice singing voice that was important to the story because there are scenes where she is performing for crowds. Lucy Gray is a member of the Covey, a traveling musical group. What also helped Zegler’s performance as Lucy Gray was her performance as Maria in the fantastic remake of “West Side Story”.

Jason Schwartzmann (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” “Asteroid City”) put a lot of personality into the role as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickermann, a TV announcer for the Hunger Games, and even though he could be distracting to some and his hair is a little funky, he embodied the role and he has some moments that are pretty funny, particularly one involving his little magic trick.

In terms of issues there are quite a few. For one, some characters could have been given more screen time. Those characters are Tigris, Snow’s cousin played by Hunter Schafer (“Euphoria”) and Sejanus Plinth played by Josh Andres Rivera (“West Side Story”). They were not bad characters but they could’ve used more screen time to further flesh them out. I also wished that Gaul, played by Viola Davis (“Air,” “Prisoners”), was more menacing in the movie. Davis was not terrible by any means in the role. She is a very good actress, but I would’ve really wanted Gaul to make the audience’s skin crawl given that she is the gamemaker of the Hunger Games.

At 157 minutes, this film is pretty long and I think it could’ve been cut by about 10-15 minutes, particularly in the final act. Without spoiling anything, if it ended at a particular moment it would’ve been a great ending, better setting up future (or in this case past) installments.

Aside from some issues, this is a good prequel that is worth checking out. If you are a fan of the series, you will love this. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” earns a B.

Commentary writer Linden Lansberry can be reached at [email protected].

If you would like to submit a reaction to a piece, Letter to the Editor or other submission, please send it to commentary editor Price Wilborn at [email protected] or [email protected].

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