Premiere issue Autumn 2002

I just bagged a cannibal, so leave me alone

Red Dragon
Written by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Thomas Harris
Directed by Brett Ratner

Rated R — for violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality.  

Hannibal's back, but Clarice is not around to get him in "Red Dragon," the fast moving but shallow prequel to "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal" — and that's the biggest problem.

In a thrilling prologue, young detective Will Graham (Edward Norton) tracks a serial killer notorious for removing flesh from his bodies. He seeks the support of a noted psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Realizing that Hannibal is the cannibal, Will finds himself about to be Lector's next course. He brings down the now-famous killer before landing himself in a coma.

A few years later, Will has physically but not emotionally recovered. He rests on his lakeside home in Florida with his son and wife (the always entrancing Mary Louise Parker has been criminally given nothing to do). His boss, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), begs Will to cover a new perplexing case involving a psychopath who wipes out entire families. Being a family man, it's difficult for Will to turn down the case when he looks at these Norman Rockwell families that have been slaughtered. So he relents.

Caught in a bind, Will relies on his favorite psychiatrist to profile the killer. Like Clarice in future editions, Will finds Hannibal in his cell under the "care" of Dr. Chilton, played by Anthony Heald as the sleazy, opportunistic head of the Baltimore psychiatric prison. Hannibal taunts Will, reminding the detective of his superiority. The good doctor's cryptic clues, meant to lead Will down the correct road, only frustrate him.

Meanwhile, we meet our killer, the physically striking, but mentally cruel Ralph Fiennes, who leers from behind his harelip, and plans his next strike against the perfect family. Evolving into the "Red Dragon," a phoenix-like beast inspired by the warnings in the biblical verses of Revelations, Fiennes' Francis Dolarhyde prepares for his next prey when a kind blind woman (Emily Watson) detours his violence by reinvigorating his heart. But for how long?

Red Dragon

I put off writing this review of "Red Dragon" for a few days after viewing the film because I needed my true feelings to gel. Three days later, I'm still unclear what I feel. Let me state what I do know: Unlike Jonathan Demme's Oscar winning direction in "Silence" and "Hannibal" director Ridley Scott's baroque treatment of the madman in Florence, Italy, "Red Dragon"'s director Brett Ratner is a technician, not an artist. He's earned his action stripes directing the swift "Rush Hour" action/comedies. But his tone disrupts the storyline we've been led down in the previous two sequels, not to mention the original version of "Red Dragon" (called "Manhunter"), directed by Michael Mann. So already "Red Dragon" is at a disadvantage. Those hoping for a gothic thriller, bordering on the Grand Guignol, will be disappointed. "Red Dragon" is not groundbreaking cinema. It's a typical best-seller adaptation like John Grisham's "The Client."

The second problem is inherent in the plot. Our favorite villain, the reason they've made this prequel in the first place, is a minor player. He's tucked away in his cell, never in danger of cooking any cast members. It's like watching the Gran Prix when all the cars have run out of gas.

Lecter's ying is also missing the yang of Clarice Starling. Their incestuous father/daughter relationship was the kernel of the sequels. I couldn't get riled up about the cat and mouse confrontations between Lecter and the detective. I wanted Clarice. It was like watching Romeo and his first girlfriend, Bertha.

And that's the last problem with the film: Will Graham isn't the best detective. They keep telling us that he's got an innate ability to see from the killer's point of view, but the killer's identity was so obvious, the only reason Will couldn't discover it within the first 30 minutes is because it would end the film early. Therefore, he scurries around without noticing the clues around him.

"Red Dragon" probably should not have been remade. It's the least interesting story in the saga. I read the novel and saw the Michael Mann film a few years ago, and yet, seeing this film, I hadn't recalled a single plot point. The plot from both the novel and the first film had disappeared from my brain faster than DB Cooper.

Review by Jonas Schwartz.

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