The Great Red Dragon: Blake’s PR Guy

Next up in the Hannibal series, is ”Red Dragon”, directed by Brett Ratner, which was released in 2002. So despite being the first entry into the Hannibal trilogy’s canon, serving as a prequel to ”Silence”, it was actually the last film released. Presumably because a previous adaptation of the same Thomas Harris book, released in 1986, entitled ”Manhunter” needed time to fade out of memory. Anthony Hopkins stars as the infamous Hannibal Lecter, while Edward Norton plays Special Agent Will Graham and Harvey Keitel takes over the role of Unit Chief Jack Crawford.

Anyway here is the trailer:

The film opens with Hannibal as a free man; his exceptionally refined taste, disturbing dinner parties and his interactions with a young and brilliant FBI agent Will Graham. I wont go into any more detail here as this scene is a delight to watch and like a fine cut of meat, deserves to remain unspoiled.

The film jumps a few years in time following the opening credits; Will is retired and lives with his family in Florida and there is a new killer du jour. The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes) is butchering families in their homes in sync with the lunar calendar. The victims are from different states, with no common factors and the FBI is stuck. Jack Crawford persuades a reluctant Will to return to catch this killer before the next full moon. As much as Will learns from the crime scenes he knows he needs a special kind of insight.  He needs to talk to Hannibal; considering how their last meeting lead to Dr. Lecter’s arrest and some serious injuries this is not a pleasant prospect.

We wouldn’t want to be rude, so we’ll start with Anthony Hopkins as Dr Lecter; given this is his 3rd outing on film the character no longer has such the shock factor that it did when he first appeared onscreen. However, the physical menace, the unsettling voice and mannerisms and most importantly those piercing eyes are all still here! The story gives Hopkins more screen time than silence and has plenty to work with and delivers another wonderful (maybe the wrong word for what it is) performance. There are some negatives however, as the writers have tried to flesh out his character a little more, make it more over the top and pronounced. For the most part this works by delivering us something new and intriguing but at times it seems too much.

For instance when ending a conversation, with Graham, Hannibal says, ”I’ll call you if I think of anything else, would you perhaps like to leave me your home phone number?”. This just seems a stretch, Hannibal is not stupid and knows Will is not stupid. Furthermore Hannibal is usually very precise and pointed with his words, he would considering a wasted sentence like this at best a chore, and at worst rude!

The two main additions to the cast here are Norton as Will Graham and Fiennes as the Tooth Fairy.

Norton is a brilliant actor, I dont think I’ve ever seen him give a bad performance. Even when he was nothing to work with, like Ang Lee’s ”Incredible Sulk Hulk”, he is still good. He manages to bring some solidity and heart to a film which could easily have been lacking in quality. His on-screen chemistry with Hopkins was palpable and the scenes between the two were always tense and thrilling. This relationship was never going to beat Starling’s from ”Silence” so they wisely took it elsewhere. Will and Hannibal worked together prior to the the latter’s incarceration, they have a student-mentor relationship. This not only brings about clashes in pride and ideology but also sparks competition. Seeing who is truly the master manipulator.

There relationship is characterized by this one quote:

Dr. Frederick Chilton: Dammit, man, you must have some advice. You caught him. What was your trick?

Will Graham: I let him kill me!

The Tooth Fairy aka Francis Dollarhyde  aka The Great Red Dragon is played excellently by Ralph Fiennes. His affectations, his body language, the way he shies away from attention due to his disfigurement, it is all first class. The way he slips between calm sociopath and a complete embodiment of a delusion is fascinating and impressive. The most interesting relationship here is not the communication between Francis and Hannibal but in fact between Francis and a blind film developer, Reba (Emily Watson). She is confident, extremely well adapted and despises pity, a trait she shares with Dollarhyde and  a trait hat brings them together. As their relationship develops, these feelings of genuine care and affection begin to conflict with The Red Dragon delusion. Even at the height of his chaotic devolution, Francis cannot give Reeba to the dragon. This grounding relationship adds great depth to Francis and pushes him to the brink.

This film greatly features The Great Red Dragon paintings by the great William Blake.  They are strikingly powerful and beautiful; they have a sense of ordered chaos within these scenes from The Book Of Revelation. I would recommend learning about them, here is somewhere to start (Sorry it is only wikipedia).  The painting predominantly featured in the film is ”The Great Red Dragon And The Woman Clothed In Sun” (although in the original book it is titled  ”….clothed with the sun”, a different painting, whilst describing the former). Here it is:

It is easy to see how you could become so completely captivated by such an image.

Francis’ abusive childhood, isolation, disfigurement all lead to his desire to transform. Transform into a all powerful entity from which he can avenge those who wronged him and take the power he feels he deserves; power contained within the painting. I almost feel sorry for him. Except he then kills families and bites people and burns peoples and eats a priceless painting. On the whole he’s a pretty bad person.

Light relief is few and far between but focus around Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Freddy Lounds, a crime reporter for The Tatler who has some history with Will and the Lecter case. This humour is more based around the shock and awe depths Lounds will sink for a story, more of a laughing out of discomfort than wise-cracks. But his character has a crucial arc in the story and Hoffman did great work here. Probably the most disturbing scene of the movie features Lounds in one on one with The Red Dragon and it is a masterful scene. Here it is:

This is a good film, dark, suspenseful and well acted. It was never going to live up to the bar set by ”Silence Of The Lambs” but is far superior to ”Hannibal”, the other entry in the film series. Generally, the film is beautifully shot and directed with great set pieces and dialogue. But there are those few instances where the writing lets the actors and film down a little, and some cliche cop briefing and detecting scenes being the worst offenders. Especially when compared to the caliber of the FBI written in the first film, even though the same screen writer, Ted Tally, was around. Maybe the magic just wasn’t there.

But do watch this film. It is well worth your time! Plus there is a great little tie in to ”Silence” at the end!

VERDICT:

”Hannibal, confess. What is this divine-looking amuse bouche?”

”If I tell you, I’m afraid you won’t even try it.”

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