Red Dragon
review by Gregory Avery, 4 October 2002

The tone of the new film, Red Dragon, is made clear from the start, a prologue where the camera zooms in on the face of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins -- you were expecting Percy Kilbride?) wincing while listening to a wayward flautist playing with the Baltimore Symphony, followed by a formal at-home dinner where the symphony trustees exude over the wonderful "soirées" Lecter has thrown for them. (Don't eat anything! we're supposed to scream.) Enter Will Graham (Edward Norton), an F.B.I. agent who is visiting Lecter for his services as a "forensics consultant", then figures out that he's been killing and cooking people. A messy struggle, and the story-proper finally gets underway.

And that's pretty much the rest of the movie: queasy attempts at macabre humor, flurries of action, and crass shock effects. This is the second film version of Thomas Harris' novel, which was already very finely served by Michael Mann's 1986 film, a comparison made cruelly evident by both films sharing much of the same scene progression and, in some instances, the same dialogue. Also, the emphasis of the new film has been shifted over to Will Graham and Lecter, even though the original story was about the inevitable confrontation between Graham and the serial killer he was trying to capture, Francis Dolarhyde, who commits murders in order to transform himself into a higher being. This rearranging results in the film skittering over a great deal of the plot and most of the characters, rendering them meaningless while squandering a ludicrously talented cast: Ralph Fiennes is reduced to nothing more than a hare-lip and a monstrous back tattoo as Dolarhyde, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets an extended whining scene as a tabloid journalist, Mary-Louise Parker gets even less than that playing Graham's anguished wife, and Emily Watson, as the blind girl whom Dolarhyde falls for, is made to look wide-eyed and idiotic from the way her scenes are staged and shot. (Especially painful, if you saw Joan Allen's portrayal of the same character, in Mann's film, and found it exceptional.)

The film confirms that director Brett Ratner is, well, not exactly going to be joining the pantheon of Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott, just yet. (In a TV interview, he admitted that he was intimidated by the actors and in trying to give them direction.) He's unsubtle in his approach., to say the least. Unable to draw out characterization or nuance, he turns the movie into a circus parade: on to the next grotesquerie, the nest phony surprise plot twist! (All of it accompanied, jarringly, by a grossly overblown music score by Danny Elfman.) As for the scenes between Will Graham and Lecter upon which the fulcrum sits, Norton fumbles his way through the role, while Hopkins uses a glassy stare and a sibilant speech delivery to, again, portray the bloodthirsty maniac-as-epicurean. The power of the scenes between Jodie Foster and Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs is but a mere shadow, here: Hopkins and Norton look about as well-matched as an iguana and a ladybug.

I assume Hopkins agreed to reprise this role because it gave him the chance to realize the full arc of a character, from beginning to end. Hopkins was reticent to talk about Lecter during much of the 1990s, much like Ian Richardson, who was concerned that people were idolizing his performance as Francis Urquart, the evil prime minister in House of Cards, for the wrong reasons. Richardson agreed to play the part a third time only under the condition that the character was killed. Whereas Richardson's villain retained his maleficent complexity to the end, Lecter has become fairly obvious. Devour or be devoured, as long as you always make sure that the right wine is served and you're using the correct silverware and table manners. These niceties, of course, never stood in the way of Bundy, Dahmer, Manson, Gein, Christie, or even Jack the Ripper himself, and they remain tantamount to the epitome of evil in the last century or more, not to mention the man with the little mustache (and he was a vegetarian, at that). It may be time to set Hannibal Lecter in a corner for a while.

Directed by:
Brett Ratner

Anthony Hopkins
Edward Norton
Harvey Keitel
Ralph Fiennes
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Mary-Louise Parker
Emily Watson

Written by:
Thomas Harris
Ted Tally

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.