Bottom Line: A worthwhile prequel to The Silence of the Lambs.
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Starring: Anthony Heald, Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Frankie Faison, Harvey Keitel, Ken Leung, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ralph Fiennes
When it first hit theaters in 1991, The Silence of the Lambs was a hit. To say the least, it is one of the only three films ever to clean up with the five most prestigious Academy Awards–something unheard of for a mid-February release, let alone a horror movie. After hesitation from Anthony “Hannibal Lecter” Hopkins, director Ridley Scott brought the story back with Hannibal, an overall needless sequel. Yet it seemed nobody realized that the originating film was a sequel in its own right. Many do not credit Brian Cox for his performance as the notorious villain in 1986′s Manhunter. That film, though seemingly overlooked by everyone other than its cult followers, is based on Red Dragon, the novel in which author Thomas Harris introduced Hannibal Lecter. Not until seven years after that publication was The Silence of the Lambs open for reading. I cannot assess Red Dragon in comparison to Manhunter, but having seen and far more than enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs, I’ll say it doesn’t present itself as a pointless remake. If there wasn’t one person utterly fascinated by Hannibal Lecter when he was popularized in Silence, I feel pity. The villain stood secondary in that film, and he only appeared onscreen for around sixteen minutes, but he still remains the picture’s most perturbing characteristic. His manipulative charm overall struck me as perhaps more unsettling than sequences that confirmed his cannibalistic nature. Yet he was so mysterious and he held such an undisclosed background. We needed a prequel, so why not re-adapt Red Dragon?
After the utterly nonplussing Hannibal, it wouldn’t be fair to hold high expectations of the Hannibal saga any longer. It’s possible this film would have failed under the expectations of something as remarkable as The Silence of the Lambs, but if there’s one component resurrected (almost) just as phenomenally as was done in that classic, it’s the performances. With Anthony Hopkins reprising his stunning villain, we must expect the film to succeed at some level in this area. We are blown away by how well the talent of other names are showcased: Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Emily Watson, to name a few. Unfortunately the film fails in its attempts to aim for originality. It’s certainly justifiable that Red Dragon is its own work and, in fact, not a prequel. There isn’t much done to Hopkins to make him appear younger, for example, and although a date is given in the beginning of the film, we barely remember it because the presentation could reflect any time between the mid-20th century to now. The plot, however, tends to play out as a rehash of The Silence of the Lambs. FBI agent Will Graham (Norton) is assigned to investigate a mysterious–and surprisingly underwritten–serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy”, just like in Silence when FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) investigates “Buffalo Bill”. To uncover necessary information, Will seeks help from Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Hopkins)–just as Clarice did in Silence.
Red Dragon isn’t a great film, so to speak. If that were so, it would compare in some way to The Silence of the Lambs. I enjoyed this prequel, so I’d rather not even try to compare it to Silence, in fear of making it seem far worse than it truly is. As a prequel, Red Dragon isn’t “great” either, but when all is said and done, everything that we needed was tackled successfully. We the audience discover some of Hannibal’s earlier experiences in the criminal field, get a few decent jumps as well as scares, and finish off with an epilogue-fashioned finale that leads directly into The Silence of the Lambs. A promising step up from Hannibal.