Bottom Line: A sequel that is equal parts monstrously gory and pancake flat.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, David Andrews, Francesca Neri, Frankie R. Faison, Gary Oldman, Giancarlo Giannini, Hazelle Goodman, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Zeljko Ivanek
I’m not a huge fan of filmmaker Ridley Scott. Of course, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his perfectionist work with the sci-fi genre—but those classics only amount to three films, among the other seventeen he has directed. 2001 must have been the year Scott decided violence was the only valid answer for finishing a film. It was the year he directed BLACK HAWK DOWN, quite possibly one of the most ruthlessly violent and emotionlessly disgusting war movies ever made. That was in December. Let’s skim back to February, the month that saw the release of his HANNIBAL. This sequel clearly wasn’t just an intention to follow up THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, it’s a celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary. Unfortunately, it becomes more of a film that takes a rather different route than its unforgettable predecessor. Whereas Jonathan Demme built suspense in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by keeping everything truly horrifying just barely off screen, Ridley Scott wraps no restrictions whatsoever on our vision, leaving the limits at a human face being fed to dogs, the exposure of a human brain, and pretty much everything in between. We feel more repulsed than thrilled, and we begin to wonder why SILENCE is so controversial for “glorifying” serial killers, and this follow-up isn’t.
I’ve read that Anthony Hopkins was reluctant to star in this sequel. He was deeply disturbed by a mid-1990s case in which two English, preteen boys kidnapped and murdered a young child; the two murderers claimed to have been inspired by what they were seeing on film, which perhaps brought Hopkins to the fear that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS may have been one of their influences. Yet this was “the role of a lifetime,” according to Roger Ebert just a few years before the film’s release, and Hopkins would be best to “weigh the script carefully”. It’s quite saddening how little care must have been taken in analyzing the screenplay and the story, neither of which has much value. Whereas the first film was focused on FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) using cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to hunt down another vicious killer, the main focus here is Starling (Julianne Moore replacing Foster), now a special agent, making an attempt to track down Dr. Lecter himself. Let’s leave aside the fact that the film is far more violent than it should be, and that at this rate, Hopkins could have easily found himself in another state of fear for once more glorifying homicide. The characters themselves are quite blatantly flawed. Admittedly, Hopkins reprises his excellent performance—this time with several more minutes onscreen—and Moore ultimately succeeds at taking over for Foster. There’s also a memorable performance by Gary Oldman, even though it takes some time to figure out that it’s actually him. But once the script comes in, the personalities of character Lecter and Starling are washed away. We try to accept it as Hannibal being the cunning, charismatic maniac he is when he refers to Starling as an “old friend,” but sooner or later she begins to play along as well.
HANNIBAL is not quite an insult to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It has its moments, and it doesn’t go far enough over the top with stupid characters and their actions to actually mock that classic. But it’s easy to say that this is a huge letdown. It’s a film that just doesn’t offer much that actually gives us a reason to care. It’s not terribly uneventful, but with an oversimplified plotline stretched out over two hours, it comes close. What more can I say? If you thought Hannibal Lecter was brilliant in some respect when you watched THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you probably wouldn’t appreciate a sequel like this that makes him look like a quotidian psychopath.