(out of 5)
Taking place right before the events depicted in The Silence of the Lambs, this new chapter in the fascination with Hannibal Lecter has Anthony Hopkins return in the role of the famous cannibal that won him an Academy Award eleven years earlier. It begins with Lecter’s capture by brilliant FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), then continues when Graham is recruited from his semi-retirement to help catch a psychotic killer (Ralph Fiennes) who has murdered two entire families in the most gruesome manner. Graham consults with Lecter much like Clarice Starling would later do in Lambs, and just like in Jonathan Demme’s classic there are many probing scenes of consultation that feature the back-and-forth verbal confrontations that we’ve grown to love from these movies. Emily Watson plays a blind lab technician who works with Fiennes and begins a shy romance with him without having any idea what he gets up to in his free time, and Mary-Louise Parker co-stars as Norton’s frustrated (and incredibly boring) wife. Director Brett Ratner wisely stays away from making a film anything like the vapid Hannibal, thanks also to a literate script by Lambs scribe Ted Tally, but the story lacks in many ways: producers of sequels and imitators seem to be under the impression that what made the original so fantastic was its gruesome nature, but it always seemed to me that Demme’s film was so memorable because it was a love story set under the most obtuse circumstances. Will Graham is no match for a character like Clarice Starling (whether played by Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore), and the film’s story seems to be constantly aware of its secondary nature in this regard. However, it is incredibly entertaining, if not overly impressive, and Fiennes is terrifying in the role of the madman, though Ratner doesn’t always seem all that aware of just how good an actor he has to work with. Another wise decision in making the film was hiring production designer Kristi Zea, whose work on the original is probably one of the things that made the film so incredibly effective in the first place (have you ever seen a scarier basement?) A plot twist in the last third, reminiscent of more ridiculous thrillers like High Crimes than any horror classic, ends up being the usual cheap trick that all these movies feature, and keeps the film from being anywhere close to its big brother. Thomas Harris’ original novel was previously filmed by Michael Mann in 1986 as Manhunter, and though the story in that one isn’t as juicy, the film itself is a lot scarier.
Directed by Brett Ratner
Cinematography by Dante Spinotti
Music by Danny Elfman
Production Design by Kristi Zea
Costume Design by Betsy Heimann
Film Editing by Mark Helrich