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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Hunger Games Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds: Review

The Hunger Games are back ... sort of. No, this young adult spin on "Battle Royale" does not feature the likes of Katiness Everdeen or Peeta. Instead, "Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" chronicles the uprising of Cornelius Snow, who eventually evolves into the tyrannical president of this dystopian society.

The Hunger Games franchise never allured me, so color me surprised when I say that "Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" is accomplished in some aspects. It is also a bloated and wildly uneven epic that jostles between meandering sentiments and piercing revelations in its search for forming a cohesive experience.

Unlike its predecessors, "Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" eschews its young adult adaptation label to tell a story of endless despair. I appreciate the rugged grit director Francis Lawrence imbues into the material. The filmmaker removes the kid gloves that made prior films feel more artificial to develop a nuanced depiction of how desperation and survival of the fittest mantras can transform innocent bystanders into monstrous forces cutting ahead to survive.

The focus on Cornelius is the perfect platform for wrestling with these notions, with the film capturing a sweeping arc that charts his conniving rise to the socialites. "Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" also exhibits excellent production values and spotlights some terrific performances, particularly from Tom Blyth as Cornelius and Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom, the man who lives with the guilt of creating the Hunger Games.

"Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" nails certain aspects yet trips on its feet in others. The cast is unfortunately a mixed bag, with overwrought performances from Rachel Zelger and Josh Andrés Rivera hampering the film's dramatic intentions. I also think the story would operate better as a mini-series. The sweeping scale presented here requires additional character development to convey the film's grander aspirations.

"Ballard of Snakes and Songbirds" inspires in some aspects and frustrates others, but I appreciate its more mature spin on the franchise's running themes. When the film pieces everything together, it soars to heights that most young adult adaptations struggle to reach.


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