Red Dragon (2002)
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Review Date: October 02, 2002
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ted Tally
Producers: Dino and Martha De Laurentiis
Ed Norton as Will Graham
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde
A prequel to the gigantic success that was THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS about an FBI agent who recruits the help of a locked up madman/genius in order to capture a mysterious serial killer. The plot in this film? Well, uhhhhmm...an FBI agent recruits the help of that very same madman/genius in order to capture yet another mysterious serial killer. See the difference? Exactly! Chianti ensues.
I had two problems with this film before it even began: 1) I thought that it was released way too soon after HANNIBAL, which came out just last year and 2) its plotline was a virtual carbon-copy of the Oscar monster we've all salivated over called THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (see plot outlines above). Needless to say, I didn't walk into this screening with much of a hard-on. But as much as I'm tired of Hannibal as a character, and as much as the first 15-20 minutes of this movie felt exactly like the original (even down to several identical shots), the events in this film did eventually hook me in by the halfway point, and I ultimately enjoyed it, as much for the number of its peculiar characters and mystery, as its skilled ability to balance both the story of the FBI agent on the killer's trail with the killer's own personal life. In fact, the greater insight given into the life of the psychopath in this film is probably the most obvious difference between the two films. Ralph (pronounced "nice tattoo") Fiennes also offers a layered performance of the maniac, despite his ultimate reasons for the killings being as standard as most "serial killer" flicks. In other words, if you're looking for pure originality, this movie is definitely not for you, especially if you're about as sick as seeing Hopkins do his "Hannibal thang" as I am. Thankfully, Hopkins' role is really very minor here, although the film's first 10 minutes, which provide for some background on Hannibal before he himself was caught, were pretty cool to see. The opening credit sequence was also pretty neat, but it all kept me wondering why they didn't just make this movie about how Dr. Lecter became "Hannibal the Cannibal" instead of this transplanted "rehash" of SILENCE (or remake of MANHUNTER, for that matter).

The film did however provide for a solid story, some decent surprises, ups and downs, and most of all, engaging performances all around. My two faves were Emily Watson, who really instilled in her character a well-defined believability (and ultimately, a depth to the story's unfolding-her scenes with Fiennes kicked ass) and Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose few scenes were fun to watch. Unfortunately for Hopkins himself, most of his scenes now seem to play out comedically, with all the dread and fear that we felt in SILENCE now seeming somewhat parodied and unscary. The few scenes with Norton looking fearful in front of the old man were especially unconvincing. But like I said earlier, he's really not in the movie so much and ultimately it's more about the killer's warped mind than his, so don't expect any song and dance routines from the man and you'll be fine. Norton's own journey was also interesting, as well as his detective work, which kept me involved. Ratner's directing isn't going to win any Oscars, but I was surprised to find the film quite dark and atmospheric, and the creepy score by Danny Elfman, just right. As for suspense, violence and gross out stuff, there really wasn't as much as either of the two previous films, but the final 15 minutes are quite the grabber and certain shots throughout the movie may disturb some (if seeing a dude bite another dude's tongue off bothers you, that is). Now even though I did like this movie, I still wouldn't recommend that anyone who is "sick" of Hannibal see it since there really isn't all that much originality being handed out 'round these parts. I would actually suggest that you wait about a year or so (like the filmmakers should have done, before that certain "green monster" bit 'em in the ass), and then check it out on video one dark, creepy evening, when it will likely affect you much more than it would now. Don't get me wrong, it is a good movie, but I just think that it was brought to the big screen too early and for all the wrong reasons and I guess I don't really want to support that. Or maybe I'm just talking out of my ass again. Hard to tell these days.

PS: I've never seen MANHUNTER, Michael Mann's 1986 version of this same material, which is why I don't mention it in my review at all. Some folks are saying that Norton was miscast here because his character was a burnt out older agent in that film, but that's not what I got from this flick, so his presence seemed fine to me. His performance was also decent, but nothing particularly exemplary (no AMERICAN HISTORY X smirks here).
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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