Red Dragon (2002) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, grisly images, language, some nudity, and sexuality
Running time: 124 min.
Cast: Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Heald, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin (cameo), Bill Duke (cameo), Ellen Burstyn (voice cameo)
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenplay: Ted Tally (based on the Thomas Harris novel)
Review published October 8, 2002
There are so many reasons people may not care to see Red Dragon, the latest film in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy adapted from Thomas Harris' bestselling series, that it actually amazes me that someone would see the need to make it. Granted, Silence of the Lambs was a blockbuster hit and a resounding critical success, and the sequel that followed it proved lucrative as well. However, the feelings were very mixed for Hannibal, with its over-saturation of gore and graphic violence, that many people will probably feel that the last thing they might want to see is more unpleasantness. Also, Red Dragon is a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, so it seems anti-climactic for the character of Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins, Bad Company) since we not only know he will be imprisoned, but also, we have seen so much of what he is capable of when he is out of his cage that when you keep him inside for most of the film, we aren't going to find him nearly as scary.
On top of this, Red Dragon is also a remake, as most hardcore fans of the novels and movies will have seen Manhunter, which was done over 16 years prior, before Silence of the Lambs, so we've already seen a vision of the novel played out in the not-too-distant past, still relatively fresh in the mind. Lastly, all three previous adaptations had proven directors at the helm, from Michael Mann, to Jonathan Demme, and Ridley Scott, so when you see Brett "Rush Hour" Ratner's name attached to a remake of a prequel of a series that no longer titillates like it used to, expectations are bound to be shaky at best.
This time out, it's not Clarice Starling, but Will Graham (Norton, Frida) that is the main investigator. Graham has a knack for being able to put himself in the mind of the killer to know how they think, and his notoriety in the industry only increases when he is the one to finally capture the mastermind Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter and put him away. Graham was almost killed in the capture, and wants to get away from doing that kind of work, but a trusted friend and associate lures him back in the game when a new series of murders take place. Two entire families have been horribly killed, and teeth marks left on a victim have dubbed the new killer the "Tooth Fairy". Graham must try to put the pieces of the puzzle together before he strikes again, and his effort forces him back to confronting Hannibal Lecter again to give him ideas and insights into the mind of this new breed of psychopath.
Red Dragon, at best, is a completist film for those who want to round out the trilogy with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal for all three adaptations. I wish I could say that Red Dragon now makes Manhunter almost obsolete, but unfortunately, it's quite the contrary. Manhunter is a much more challenging film, deeper artistically, with far better characterizations, and is a breath of fresh air when contrasting it to the masterful, but darkly gothic Silence of the Lambs.
However, as inferior as Red Dragon may be to the first incarnation, my goal is review each film on its own merits, instead of comparing it with other examples, which I think is only fair considering many viewers will not have seen the Michael Mann version. As such, Red Dragon is modestly interesting, with a good story and colorful characters to liven things up. It is the least gory of the three newest films, commendably so considering the direction the series seemed to be going, and should hopefully please those who feel that things had gone too far astray with Hannibal.
Brett Ratner may lack the artistic flourishes of his predecessors, taking the film more in a straightforward thriller direction, but shows enough talent in this genre to expect that he may prove successful directing films other than buddy-flick comedies. Ted Tally, screenwriter for The Silence of the Lambs, returns as well for more good writing and plotting in a comfortable vein. The cast is a bit uneven, with Edward Norton seeming inconsequential to the two strong performances by the villains, and Ralph Fiennes (Spider, The End of the Affair) not well-cast as the anti-social, unattractive killer. As good a performance as Fiennes delivers, he doesn't seem very unattractive, or at least enough of a misfit, to buy in the role.
Red Dragon will probably be must-see for those who love the character of Hannibal Lecter, and especially for those who love Anthony Hopkins' portrayal. However, if you're sick of it all by now, you aren't missing anything special, as this is a mostly commercial venture that really contributes nothing new or exciting to the series. If you do happen to see it and are entertained enough, I would highly recommend seeking out Manhunter at your local video store, as it is infinitely more substantial and better executed.
While I was entertained enough with Red Dragon to give it a modest recommendation, now that the series is up to date, I also hope that is that it's finally complete. It was a good ride while it lasted, but like BB King once sang, "the thrill is gone."
©2002 Vince Leo