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Red Dragon

By Lee Gardner | Posted

Poor Hannibal--gone from a modern-day nightmare icon to a mincing camp villain no more ominous than your aunt's pekingese in the space of just three films. Red Dragon opens with the eminent Baltimore psychiatrist/psychopath feeding choice cuts of an ineffectual flutist to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra board. The scene drew laughs from the preview audience, and it deserved them. In his third film playing Hannibal Lecter (including The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal), Anthony Hopkins seems to so enjoy people's delight at his eerie mannerisms that he heads straight over the top with them until he's practically channeling Truman Capote. Director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2) either didn't have the sand to stop Hopkins or didn't have the cinema savvy to realize he should try. Judging from the rest of Red Dragon, my money's on the latter.

Hopkins is well cast, for better or worse, and the caliber of the primary players--Edward Norton as tortured but tousled FBI agent Will Graham; Ralph Fiennes as the wannabe über-mensch serial killer Graham is out to nab; Emily Watson as a blind woman with the bad fortune to fall for the worst possible guy; Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tabloid sleaze--promises great things. Unfortunately, Ted Tally's lumbering script gives everyone a lot of 'splaining to do (this from the man who wrote the Lambs screenplay), and Ratner is no help, snuffing any excitement or life the actors manage to kindle by boxing them in with static two-shots and other uninspired directing choices. In fact, Ratner makes one bad choice after another right down the line--from using cheap shock tactics and then not using them enough, to needlessly playing up the Norman Bates aspects of Fiennes' character, to getting nonsensically cutesy with the ending to link his movie with its betters in the series--and the results are ever more shoddy and crass.

While Red Dragon compares unfavorably to The Silence of the Lambs (better every year) and Hannibal (disappointing but at least competent), it suffers most when compared to Manhunter, Michael Mann's taut and stylish 1986 film of the same Thomas Harris novel. If you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it in a while, Mann's film is well worth a rental fee. Ratner should probably rent it, too, and pay attention this time.

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