Red Dragon (2002)
Person #1: So this Hannibal movie made like a ton of green. What else can we do to squeeze out some more money?
Person #2: Hey, do you remember a movie called Manhunter based on the first Lector novel?
Person #1: Nope.
Person #2: That’s fine because nobody else does.
It’s official folks: Hannibal Lector, America’s favorite cannibal, is now more comical than scary. See the element that 1991’s Silence of the Lambs carried with it was a stealthily gripping sense of psychological horror. It hung with you in every closed breath you would take, surrounding you and blanketing your mind. I mean, there aren’t many serial killer movies that win a slew of Oscars. And while the follow-up, last year’s Hannibal, gleefully bathed in excess at least Ridley Scott’s sequel was so over-the-top with its Baroque horror that it was entertaining. So what’s Red Dragon, the latest Lector flick based on Thomas Harris first novel like? Well it’s like the bastard child of Lambs and Hannibal after a drunken one-night-stand neither would be proud of in the pale light of morning.
In an extended prologue we see the capture of the good doctor with a good appetite, Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins, completing his trilogy of the character). FBI Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) seeks his advice on a profile of a serial killer, not knowing that Lector more than fits the bill. A violent struggle ensues that leaves Graham with a long scar across his abdomen and Lector locked away for nine consecutive life sentences.
Turns out there’s another madman on the loose. The Tooth Fairy, dubbed by tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), has butchered two families in their homes and inserted shards of broken mirror into their eyes. The FBI coaxes Graham out of retirement to try and track down the Tooth Fairy. But it seems in order to make any significant ground he must seek help from an old advisor – Hannibal Lector.
The crux of the film follows Graham’s attempts to figure out the identity of the Tooth Fairy, which we learn fairly fast is pretty boy Ralph Fiennes. Seems Fiennes has a cleft palette and years of physical and sexual abuse to toil over. He desires to transform into a mythical Chinese creature known as the Red Dragon. But wait, the lonely Fiennes is befriended by a lovely blind woman (Emily Watson) who identifies having people look differently at her. Can her affections melt the cold heart of a cold-blooded killer? Well, if they did thered be no other half of this movie.
What Red Dragon feels like is more of a checklist of what we expect to see in a Hannibal movie than anything of creative nourishment. It’s like a slimmer version of Lambs plot. Once again there’s an FBI agent who recruits Hannibal for advice on tracking down a serial killer. Once again there’s a disturbed killer trying to transform himself. Once again Hannibal Lector scares the crap out of anyone at will. Check, check, and check. Creative stagnation? Double check. The most disappointing aspect is the rudimentary feel this whole exercise has. Even though Red Dragon is a prequel it still seems like it’s begging to meet our expectations of two earlier films.
The first stab at the Red Dragon novel was in 1986 by director Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider) with the thriller Manhunter. William Peterson (before his work at CSI) was a more brooding Graham, Tom Noonan was a spookier Tooth Fairy, and the tension was stacked better. There were no comparative expectations.
Norton is the finest actor of his generation but has certain trouble breathing life into Graham. The character is far more straight-laced than what we’ve been told is an expert at delving into the minds of killers. Grahams relationship with Lector doesn’t have any of the complexity, or interest, that Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling had. He can even be very flat-footed in his detective work for a specialist. He stares at the home videos of the two slain families for about an hour wondering what the connection is while we in the audience shout it out to him. Lets go to the videotape Ed!
Anthony Hopkins returns as the devil in the flesh and seems to have another grand old time. Lector worked in Lambs because he was caged up, like a wild animal not meant for four glass walls. You never knew what would happen. He’d get in your head and he would know what to do with your gray matter — not that he didn’t have a culinary degree in that department with Hannibal. With Red Dragon, Hannibal is just window dressing to another serial killer. He’s a supporting character in a story that he has nothing to do with. He’s reduced to comic relief with his sudden attacks of chattering teeth and velvety voice. The amazing supporting cast of actors all do well, especially the beaming Watson who will shine in anything you put her in. Just try.
Ultimately the story of Red Dragon is far from flawless and meanders for quite a while. It would have been a marginally competent movie had it not been trying to replicate Silence of the Lambs so damn hard. So, is this the last youll see of Hannibal Lector? No as long as clinging cash registers can still be heard. Cue evil laughter.
Nate’s Grade: C+
Posted on October 4, 2002, in 2002 Movies and tagged anthony hopkins, book, brett ratner, disability, drama, edward norton, emily watson, harvey keitel, mary louise-parker, phillip seymour hoffman, prequel, ralph fiennes, serial killer, thriller. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.