The first chapter of Thomas Harris’ trilogy was first made into a film called “Man Hunter” in the mid-eighties, but it does not hold a flame to the remake. This film, the prequel to the Academy Award winning “Silence of the Lambs,” portrays Hannibal the Cannibal as haunting as he can be.
The sequel to “Silence of the Lambs,” “Hannibal,” fell very short because of two main factors; Ted Tally (the screenwriter of “Lambs”) and Jonathan Demme (the director of “Lambs”) were missing. Although we do not have Jonathan Demme back as the director, we do have Ted Tally back as the screenwriter for “Red Dragon.” Ted Tally’s incredible ability to adapt a novel into a screenplay plays a major part in the success of this thriller.
The film begins with a crime committed by Hannibal before his initial capture in 1980 and a rather humorous and disturbing dinner party. But after this crime, FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton,) captures Lecter in a bloody battle and sends him into that Baltimore dungeon that we have learned to love from the encounters with Clarice and Hannibal.
Swearing to his wife that he would never go back onto murder cases, Will Graham is enthralled by a new murderer whom the tabloid have dubbed, “The Tooth Fairy.” “The Tooth Fairy’s” obsession with Lecter and his crimes leads the FBI to believe that Lecter can help them find this murderer so they utilize his brilliant mind in this extensive man-hunt.
It is difficult to summarize this picture without giving away most of the suspense, because like Demme, the new director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”), brought back a Hitchcock like feel to this story. He intensified the suspense and drew it out, keeping the audience right on edge. Unlike the poor directing of Ridley Scott (“Hannibal”), this film does not focus on the gore of Hannibal’s crimes and of “The Tooth Fairy’s” crimes. It focuses on the importance of the psychological aspect of the crimes, which strengthens the picture.
The driving force, however, is the ensemble cast of actors they were able to gather to complete this film. Even down to the smaller roles of Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Magnolia”) and Mary-Louise Parker (“The Client”), this cast delivered in all the right places.
Although I certainly do not see another Oscar for Anthony Hopkins, or another nomination for Edward Norton, I do see a nomination for Ralph Fiennes. His portrayal of a tormented is magnificent. He holds true to my theory of a good actor, deliberate methodical consistency.
Is this better than “Silence of the Lambs?” No. The only reason is that “Red Dragon” is missing that Jonathan Demme feel. Demme would accomplish feats with simple camera pans, close ups of Hopkins chilling eyes, and rooms made of all cinder block. Other directors do not have the eye for a psychological thriller like Demme presented in “Lambs.”
It does not matter, however. I am still giving this an A-. It scared me, it got me tense and Anthony Hopkins simply amazes me. So I applaud Hopkins, Norton, Fiennes, Harvey Kietel, Hoffman, Parker, and especially Emily Watson (who plays a wonderfully charming blind romantic interest to “The Tooth Fairy”), they have all done a spectacular job at creating another chapter to the Lecter series. But I still hold “Silence of the Lambs” as the most suspenseful, haunting thriller to date (primarily because Lecter is the all-time horrifying villain).
Suggestions with Anthony Hopkins; “The Bounty,” “Instinct,” “The Mask of Zorro,” “Surviving Picasso,” “Shadowlands,” “Titus,” “Amistad,” “Meet Joe Black,” “Remains of the Day,” “The Road to Wellville,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Nixon,” “Chaplin,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Suggestions with Edward Norton; “Death to Smoochy,” “Keeping the Faith,” “Primal Fear,” “Rounders,” “Fight Club,” “Keeping the Faith,” “The Score,” “Everyone Says I Love You,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “American History X.”
Suggestions with Ralph Fiennes; “Quiz Show,” “The English Patient,” “Strange Days,” “Schindler’s List.”