UK release date: 8 September 2009



cast list

Anthony Hopkins
Julianne Moore
Gary Oldman
Ray Liotta
Giancarlo Giannini
Frankie Faison

directed by
Ridley Scott


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 novel by Thomas Harris, Hannibal is a fairly accurate adaptation of its literary source, which means that the problems that plagued the book also haunt the movie. However, director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and stars Julianne Moore and Anthony Hopkins manage to elevate the production above these deficits to deliver 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 the criminally insane in the hope that he could help her catch the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. Lecter is now at large in Italy, gloriously at liberty in an unguarded world. But Clarice has never forgotten her encounters with the mannered yet nefarious doctor – his voice still haunts her for “at least thirty seconds of every day”.

Mason Verger (an unrecognisable 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 his inheritance to exact his revenge. Verger realises that in order to draw Lecter out into the open, he must dangle irresistible bait: Starling, who is currently suffering the wrath of a malicious FBI agent Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) and the media following a botched drug raid led by Clarice that opens 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 is unfolding in Florence. A police inspector named Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) discovers that the new curator at Palazzo Vecchio, Dr Fell, is none other than Hannibal, who currently has a three million dollar bounty on his head (courtesy of one Mason Verger). Despite warnings from several parties involved with apprehending Lecter (among them Starling), Pazzi tries to capture the doctor by himself. Bad move, Rinaldo.

With his cover blown and his bloodlust rekindled, Lecter decides that he needs “some action” and travels back to America, not only to take care of Verger once and for all, but also to take care of those who are giving Clarice 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 the novel of Hannibal. The story was nowhere near as complex or gripping as the previous two books, the standout section being the middle that took place inFlorence. So, it came as no surprise that the story was also the weakest element of the movie as well. Despite the presence of screenwriting giants David Mamet and Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), the story is not much more than serviceable in getting characters from point A to B. A crucial dramatic and emotional involvement that Manhunter and Lambs both had is missing here, making the viewer a distanced spectator instead of being in the 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 an entertaining film, one that is rich in his trademark smoky atmosphere and one that is capable of delivering some very intense, suspenseful and darkly humorous scenes (his handling of the section in Italy is excellent). There has 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. But Scott’s approach to these scenes (namely a dinner scene that Peter Greenaway would be proud of) is so over-the-top that one can’t help but laugh. This may or may not have had been the intended effect, but it does make the material work. Credit should also be given to Scott for having the smarts to change the book’s absolutely crappy concluding pages, making for a more tolerable (albeit grosser) coda. His work here isn’t as accomplished as it was in Gladiator, Thelma & Louise or Alien, but given what he had to work with, I think Ridley Scott did some nice work here overall.

As for the cast, the main question buzzing around was whether or not Julianne Moore would be able to successfully take over the role of Starling from Jodie Foster. The answer to that is a resounding yes. Her take on Clarice is a different one than Foster’s, presenting a more confident and authoritative woman, one that shows more strength than the Starling in the novel. As much as I love Foster as an actress, she was not missed here. As for Hopkins, he delivers another fine performance as Lecter, throwing in some very dry, funny one-liners here and there while also giving us the creeps in all the right places. Giannini, Liotta and Oldman all turn in solid supporting performances. A bit of trivia: Frankie Faison, who reprises his Lambs role as the orderly Barney here, has starred in all three of the films (he played a cop in Manhunter).

On the technical side, well, it’s a Ridley Scott film. Excellence all around, per usual (Italy has rarely looked this hauntingly beautiful onscreen). The serial killer genre has pretty much been picked clean in terms of entertainment and originality. In the hands of a lesser capable cast and crew, Hannibal would have been a completely dreadful footnote to the genre. Thankfully, that is not the case. Not as good as its predecessors, but then again it’s not The Cell. For that, I should send Ridley a nice bottle of Chianti.

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