Hannibal (2001) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong, gruesome violence, some nudity and language      
Running Time: 131 min.

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Ennio Coltorti, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini,
Director:  Ridley Scott
Screenplay: David Mamet, Steve Zaillian (based on the book by Thomas Harris)

Review published February 12, 2001

It doesn't say much for a movie when a half hour after viewing it, all you can recall are some memorably gross moments. Couple this with the fact that it is a sequel to a wholly lasting Academy Award winning film in Silence of the Lambs and you can see how far the level of quality has fallen. Luckily for us, Hannibal could have been far worse with the same storyline than it is here, and while the quality may have fallen in the tale, the cast and crew were professional enough to keep things from totally going into the tank and make some passable entertainment out of it.

Ten years after Silence of the Lambs takes place, the infamous serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins, Instinct), spends his days in retirement as a potential curator for a famous art museum in Florence, Italy. That doesn't stop Lecter from being one of the FBI's top 10 Most Wanted, and his placement on the list has much to do with Mason Verger (Oldman, The Contender), a man he defaced (literally) some time back who does nothing with his reclusive lifestyle but plot revenge. Verger forces Lecter out of retirement in hopes of catching his prey, but learns one really should be careful of what one wishes for lest he get it.

Professionalism is what saves Hannibal from being one of the worst sequels of all time. The professionalism is so successful, that for at least a 45 minute stretch in the middle of the film, it appeared that it would actually be one of the better sequels in recent years as well. That is, before the movie sinks due to a poorly-conceived ending, in which the makers strived for giving viewers what they expect: gross-out cannibalism and pithy lines to accompany it. Julianne Moore (Magnolia, The End of the Affair) takes over as Clarice Starling, the FBI agent in the cat-and-mouse game with Lecter, played by Jodie Foster in the first film. Whether or not Moore lives up to Foster's role is irrelevant since the film doesn't care much about the character, serving merely as an object for Lecter's desires than as someone to truly care about.

Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner) takes the helm as director, and while he is more subdued style-wise than Jonathan Demme from the first film, he does give Hannibal a suitably haunting look that is very effective in setting up the action. Superb screenwriters also join forces in the form of David Mamet (The Untouchables, State and Main) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fischer), which makes the rather superficial storyline seem a bit deeper than it really is. Very solid acting rounds out the film by Moore and, of course, Anthony Hopkins, with another winning crackpot performance by Gary Oldman as Mason Verger.

Summing up Hannibal, it's not just a step down from the original, it's more of a whole flight of stairs. However, enough exceptional talent was brought together to form a "safety net" of efficiency to keep Hannibal from falling to a grisly death. If you couldn't get enough of the characters from the first film, Hannibal gets a mild recommendation as long as you have two essential things: lowered expectations and a strong stomach. If Silence of the Lambs thrilled us while also giving us food for thought, Hannibal would rather serve up a dish of thought for food.

-- Followed by two prequels: Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007).

Qwipster's rating:

2001 Vince Leo