Red Dragon

Of all the attempts to confine Hannibal Lector, Thomas Harris’ irresistibly refined bogeyman on the screen, none has had more versions than his original appearance Red Dragon. First adapted as Manhunter by Heat’s Michael Mann in 1986 and featuring Brian Cox in a relatively small role as the psychologist with highly questionable dining habits, it was relatively ignored by audiences at the time despite being a hugely stylish take on the serial killer chase movie but everything changed in 1991 thanks to the Oscar consuming Silence Of The Lambs. Lector, an important yet a relatively supporting figure in the books, exploded into the public consciousness mostly in part due to Anthony Hopkins’ crowd pleasing performance became a cinematic icon virtually overnight and eventually became the full focus of a third novel/film which, to be kind, was… memorable. It was only logical that the cinema gods would eventually remake Manhunter for continuity purists and grant Hopkins a Lecter hat trick, but for all the twists and turns, surely the biggest shock in this movie filled with twisted murderers is that it’s directed by the creator of fucking Rush Hour…

FBI criminal behaviourist Will Graham is burdened with the terrible gift of being able to actually put himself deep into the mindset of serial killers in order to catch them and not only that but his last collar was none other than cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lector, an acting consultant on his own crimes. After that experience left him mentally ravaged and sporting a stomach wound you could fit a chihuahua in, Graham has retired and settled down with a single mother in Florida, however, opportunistic Fed boss Jack Crawford coaxes Graham back into the field when a family slaughtering maniac dubbed “The Tooth Fairy” claims his second batch of victims. Saddled with a particularly complicated MO, the killer is the strapping, yet sensitive Francis Dolarhyde, a man who’s past contains a childhood of abuse and surgery corrected birth defects who wishes to “become” a powerful deity he refers to as The Red Dragon through the act of killing and Will focuses his terrible talents on pinning down this monster only to hit a metaphorical brick wall. I soon becomes apparent that the only way the fragile FBI agent can nail The Tooth Fairy before he kills again is to visit Hannibal Lecter in his cell to pick his immense brain for aid – but Lecter, never one to pass up an opportunity to do something unspeakably nasty, has plans to put a target on his nemesis’ back that may require Graham to meet Dolarhyde quicker than he anticipates…

Faced with following up two completely opposite filmmaking styles, director Brett Ratner attempts to top Jonathan Demme’s Hitchcockian class and Ridley Scott’s operatic gore flinging by simply telling a straight forward story and manages to actually place a respectable second simply by not fucking around. The fact that the man who made X-Men: The Last Stand manages to make a far more acceptable Hannibal Lecter movie than the man who made fucking Blade Runner may be initially galling, but in all honesty it really does go to show how much better a novel Red Dragon is over Hannibal. Not to take anything away from from the director that once had Chris Tucker whip a naked yakuza member in the dick with a towel, but it’s phenomenally hard to fuck up a good story and Ratner even comes within a stones throw of besting even Michael Mann’s version simply by not drenching things in as much 80’s synth as a new wave music video.
While we reel, unsteady on our feet, at the concept at Brett Ratner managing to tell a better Lector story than two of film’s greatest living cinematic visualists, it’s also prudent to bring up that not only does he have a stronger story and a more accessible style but he also has a virtually bulletproof cast to aid him too. Hopkins once again sinks his teeth into both his signature role and vast chunks of the scenery whereas Edward Norton brings gravitas – and curiously frosted hair – to the tortured Will Graham but it has to be said that there’s nothing here in their rivalry that can hope to hold a candle to the Mads Mikkelsen/Hugh Dancy bromance from the Hannibal TV show. Similarly, Ralph Fiennes gives a strong, box ticking performance as the montrous, yet multi-faceted, Francis Dolarhyde, yet can’t quite match up to Tom Noonan’s genuinely unnerving portrayal from the 1986 version and it’s here we find Red Dragon’s most glaring flaw. Whereas it’s by far the most comprehensive telling of Harris’ book, all of it’s individual pieces are constantly outdone by other versions or movies in the franchise that otherwise exist – Lecter is better in Lambs, Dolarhyde is better in Manhunter, Graham is better in Hannibal. It’s not so much an issue if you’re coming to the movie cold, but it’s hugely evident if you’re familiar with the other iterations and can often be quite distracting (take the grim fate of odious tabloid hack Freddy Lounds – the 80’s version is legitimately fucking HORRIBLE).
Thankfully, the fact that Red Dragon ends up being a good “all-rounder” means that Hopkins/Lecter completists get their trilogy even though to watch them in chronological order means you watch the Hannibal’s weight amusingly fluctuate like a yo-yo dieter (Lecter’s GOT to be an Atkins diet kinda guy, right?). Yes, the last thirty minutes is somewhat of a rushed jumble and even though the cast is impressively starry, some of them don’t seem to be particularly stretching themselves beyond a healthy paycheck (Harvey Keitel seems positively sedated at times) but this still manages to be a glossy procedural serial killer thriller that proves that audiences still have a taste for the partular kind of questionable diet that only Lecter can cook up.


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