The cannibal with class, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is back in action in Hannibal,a graphic sequel to 1991′s The Silence Of The Lambs. Based on the 1999 novelby Thomas Harris, Hannibal is a fairly accurate adaptation of its literarysource, which means that the problems that plagued the book also haunt themovie. However, director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and stars Julianne Mooreand Anthony Hopkins manage to elevate the production above these deficits todeliver a good, but not great, entry in the tired serial killer film genre.
Hannibal continues the story begun in Lambs. Ten years have passed since Dr.Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) escaped from custody, ten years since Clarice Starling(Julianne Moore, replacing Jodie Foster) interviewed him in a maximum-security hospital for thecriminally insane in the hope that he could help her catch the serialkiller known as Buffalo Bill. Lecter is now at large in Italy, gloriously atliberty in an unguarded world. But Clarice has never forgotten herencounters with the mannered yet nefarious doctor – his voice still hauntsher for “at least thirty seconds of every day”.
Mason Verger (an unrecognizable Gary Oldman) remembers Dr. Lecter too.Verger was his sixth victim, and, though hideously disfigured, he has survived.The solitary heir to his family’s fortune, he uses the resources of hisinheritance to exact his revenge. Verger realizes that in order to drawLecter out into the open, he must dangle irresistible bait: Starling, who iscurrently suffering the wrath of a malicious FBI agent Paul Krendler (RayLiotta) and the media following a botched drug raid led by Clarice thatopens the picture.
While she attempts to track down Hannibal’s whereabouts (via the Internet)from the basement of the FBI, another cat-and-mouse game involving Lecter isunfolding in Florence. A police inspector named Rinaldo Pazzi (GiancarloGiannini) discovers that the new curator at Palazzo Vecchio, Dr.Fell, isnone other than Hannibal, who currently has a three million dollar bounty onhis head (courtesy of one Mason Verger). Despite warnings from severalparties involved with apprehending Lecter (among them Starling), Pazzi triesto capture the doctor by himself. Bad move, Rinaldo.
With his cover blown and his bloodlust rekindled, Lecter decides that heneeds “some action” and travels back to America, not only to take care ofVerger once and for all, but also to take care of those who are givingClarice a hard time, ahem, their just deserts as well.
While I was a major fan of both the books and movies of Red Dragon(Manhunter) and The Silence Of The Lambs, I was not the biggest fan of thenovel of Hannibal. The story was nowhere near as complex or gripping as theprevious two books, the standout section being the middle that took place inFlorence. So, it came as no surprise that the story was also the weakestelement of the movie as well. Despite the presence of screenwriting giantsDavid Mamet and Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), the story is not much more than serviceablein getting characters from point A to B. A crucialdramatic and emotional involvement that Manhunter and Lambs both had ismissing here, making the viewer a distanced spectator instead of being inthe thick of the action. In short, it’s a faithful adaptation of the novel.
Yet, Ridley Scott manages to take the material and mold it into anentertaining film, one that is rich in his trademark smoky atmosphere andone that is capable of delivering some very intense, suspenseful and darklyhumorous scenes (his handling of the section in Italy is excellent). Therehas been a lot of talk about the level of graphic violence in this film and,to be sure, there are a couple of scenes that made even me squirm. ButScott’s approach to these scenes (namely a dinner scene that Peter Greenawaywould be proud of) is so over-the-top that one can’t help but laugh. Thismay or may not have had been the intended effect, but it does make thematerial work. Credit should also be given to Scott for having the smarts tochange the book’s absolutely crappy concluding pages, making for a moretolerable (albeit grosser) coda. His work here isn’t as accomplished as itwas in Gladiator, Thelma & Louise or Alien, but given what he had to workwith, I think Ridley Scott did some nice work here overall.
As for the cast, the main question buzzing around was whether or notJulianne Moore would be able to successfully take over the role of Starlingfrom Jodie Foster. The answer to that is a resounding yes. Her take onClarice is a different one than Foster’s, presenting a more confident andauthoritative woman, one that shows more strength than the Starling in thenovel. As much as I love Foster as an actress, she was not missed here. Asfor Sir Anthony, he delivers another fine performance as Lecter, throwing insome very dry, funny one-liners here and there while also giving us thecreeps in all the right places. Giannini, Liotta and Oldman all turn insolid supporting performances here. A bit of trivia here: Frankie Faison,who reprises his Lambs role as the orderly Barney here, has starred in allthree of the films (he played a cop in Manhunter).
On the technical side, well, it’s a Ridley Scott film. Excellence allaround, per usual (Italy has rarely looked this hauntingly beautiful onscreen).The serial killer genre has pretty much been picked clean in terms ofentertainment and originality. In the hands of a lesser capable cast andcrew, Hannibal would have been a completely dreadful footnote to the genre.Thankfully, that is not the case. Not as good as its predecessors, but thenagain it’s not The Cell. For that, I should send Ridley a nice bottle of Chianti.