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Review by
Kelly Parks

Red Dragon
RED DRAGON - 2002
Dino De Laurentiis Productions / Universal Pictures / MGM / UIP
Ratings: USA: R

When I say NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, what images come to mind? Your images are probably different from mine but I bet they have one thing in common: they're in black and white. In other words the images come from the 1968 original and not the 1990 color remake. The remake didn't suck (like Tim Burton's horrible "re-imagining" of PLANET OF THE APES) but it's not especially memorable either. Hmmmmm.

Brett Ratner directed RED DRAGON and Ted Tally (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) wrote the screenplay, based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. The novel RED DRAGON was also the basis for the 1986 movie MANHUNTER (written and directed by Michael Mann). When SILENCE OF THE LAMBS first came out, MANHUNTER was actually renamed "Red Dragon" when it was shown on network TV. The current RED DRAGON isn't meant to be a remake of MANHUNTER (which was a very good movie) but instead a retelling of the story from the novel.

The story opens with a classical music concert. The orchestra is good but one flautist keeps hitting sour notes, causing Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins: AUDREY ROSE, MAGIC, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, DRACULA, HANNIBAL) to wince. We cut to a dinner party at Dr. Lector's house where the topic of discussion is the missing flute player. We all know exactly where he is as Lector serves his guests a delicious meal but refuses to divulge the recipe.

After the guests have left and Lector is about to retire for the evening, his doorbell rings. FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton: PRIMAL FEAR, AMERICAN HISTORY X, FIGHT CLUB) is here to ask Dr. Lector about a psychological profile. Apparently Lector has been helping Graham profile a serial killer who's victims have been found with certain internal organs precisely removed. Graham has realized that certain aspects of Lector's profile just don't fit the evidence and he's here to ask the good doctor how he could have made such a mistake.

Lector leaves the room for a moment and Will, just killing time, spots a cookbook with a bookmark. He opens it and discovers a reference to sweetbreads (the pancreas and thymus). He knows.

But so does Lector, who attacks Will with a knife to the gut. This is a chilling scene as we see Dr. Lector calmly talk Will through his shock and inform him that he plans on eating his heart. This is the Lector character from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the irredeemably evil, merciless serial killer, and not the ridiculous anti-hero caricature from HANNIBAL.

Movie image 03
You know, if you would just put a toilet in my cell, we wouldn't have to go through this every time I need to pee.
As is well known, Will overcomes Lector and becomes famous as the agent who captured Hannibal the Cannibal. But the thing that makes Will Graham so good at catching these deviants - his ability to think like them and understand their fantasies - betrays him after this case is over. He finds he can't get Lector's thoughts out of his head and ends up in a mental hospital. We see all this through a montage of lurid newspaper clippings that are being pasted into a large scrapbook. Years go by. Will, though a young man, is retired on medical disability after what happened with Lector. He and his wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker) and their son Josh (Tyler Patrick Jones: MINORITY REPORT) live a quiet life in rural Florida. But the person doing the pasting in the scrapbook we saw earlier turns out to be a serial killer (Ralph Fiennes: STRANGE DAYS, SPIDER). He murders whole families and does this, for his own twisted reasons, during full moons. He's done it twice and the next full moon is three weeks away. The FBI needs Graham's help.

That's why Will's former boss, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel: SATURN 3, TWO EVIL EYES, RESERVOIR DOGS, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN), shows up with pictures of the dead families. Much to his wife's distress Will agrees to act as a consultant. He swears he's just going to look at evidence and never get close to the killer, but his wife and we the audience both know that's not true.

Will's insights do prove helpful, but even after a disturbing walk through of the house of one of the dead families Will finds he can't quite recapture the serial killer mind set. That's why he decides to visit Hannibal.

This version of RED DRAGON is closer to the novel in many ways but one: lots of extra Hannibal. The character of Hannibal Lector has become the most memorable villain in recent movie history and it's clear the real purpose of this remake is to give the public more of this character. As many scenes with Hannibal as the plot allows are thrown in and as much as I love the return to the original version of the character, it did seem like (pardon the expression) overkill. Hopkins easily steals the movie and actually gives Lector a bit more depth. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS he'd mellowed a bit (ha!) and seems almost loving (in his way) toward Clarice Starling but in this movie, when he meets with Will Graham, it's obvious how much Lector despises the man who caught him.

Yes, there's no question that Anthony Hopkins has a great performance in this film. Unfortunately the rest of the actors can't make the same claim. Edward Norton is an excellent actor but he's miscast here. He's just too wimpy to be believable. This isn't a comment on him personally - I've seen him play strong believably in AMERICAN HISTORY X and Rounders but not here. Maybe the thing that really annoys Hannibal is that he was caught by such a milquetoast.

Movie image 02
You've been telling dirty lies about me in your tabloid! But do I ever get a free subscription? Never!
Two familiar faces return here: asylum attendant Barney (Frankie Faison: CAT PEOPLE, C.H.U.D., MANHUNTER, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, FREEJACK, OXYGEN, HANNIBAL) and asylum director Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, WHISPERS IN THE DARK, DEEP RISING, 8MM). Dr. Chilton is his usual greasy self but Barney has such a small part he’s practically an extra, which is a waste. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS he was the rock of normalcy that helped Clarice Starling deal with visiting Lector. Regardless, Frankie Faison maintains his status as the only actor who has appeared in all the Hannibal Lector movies.

Another odd character choice is Phillip Seymour Hoffman (MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, TWISTER) as Freddy Lounds, the tabloid journalist who makes a nuisance of himself by following Graham around and publicizing his involvement in the investigation. Hoffman phones in his performance, mumbling through his scenes, and is barely worth noticing.

Movie image 01
I don't why you're getting all worked up over a little scar. You look Fiennes.

Emily Watson (EQUILIBRIUM) does a decent job as the blind woman who falls for Ralph Fiennes’ character and Ralph Fiennes does a good job as the pathetic serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy, but he’s nowhere near as menacing as Tom Noonan (who played the same role in MANHUNTER) and suffers by comparison.

Which is really true of the whole movie. It's interesting and the scenes with Lector are fun, but if I had to choose between this and MANHUNTER it's MANHUNTER all the way. RED DRAGON just barely earns three shriek girls.


This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Return to Horror Movies

DVD


As you can see by the poster on the left, this movie was about Thomas Harris' novel. It looks creepy and odd, reminding us of the
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
poster, which looked creepy and odd.

Weeks before the movie opened, it was suddenly changed to Anthony Hopkins puss (below), thus reminding us of
HANNIBAL
instead.

A REALLY BAD move to the most casual observer. Though
RED DRAGON
was the biggest money maker in its opening weekend, it brought in less than half of what HANNIBAL made in its first weekend. Of course, HANNIBAL was riding on the wonderful story and excellent craftwork of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
(when Anthony Hopkins was NOT a "Freddy Kruger" cartoon).
RED DRAGON
had to work off the inept crap that was HANNIBAL.
And the poster change reflected that.

It would have been SMART to pull away from Anthony Hopkins (we all knew he was in the flick anyway) and focus instead on the fact that RED DRAGON is from the people who brought you the superior SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, i.e., Harris and Ted Tally.

Without a doubt, the two best movies in the McHannibal franchise are the ones that didn't treat the series like a fast food franchise:

TRIVIA:
Dante Spinotti was cinematographer on both MANHUNTER and RED DRAGON


BOOK

ESSAY
Read Cristopher Hennessey-DeRose'
LIES HANNIBAL LECTOR TOLD ME:
AN ESSAY ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HORROR AND SUSPENSE

 

 

 
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