(director/writer: Brett Ratner; screenwriter: “Red Dragon” novel by Thomas Harris/Ted Tally; cinematographer: Dante Spinotti; editor: Mark Helfrich; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel (Jack Crawford), Mary-Louise Parker (Molly Graham), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddy Lounds), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ken Leung (Lloyd Bowman), Emily Watson (Reba McClane), Frankie Faison (Barney), Tyler Patrick Jones (Josh Graham); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dino De Laurentiis/Martha De Laurentiis; MGM/Universal; 2002)

“A weak remake of Michael Mann’s splendid 1986 thriller Manhunter.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A weak remake of Michael Mann’s splendid 1986 thriller Manhunter.

Why would anyone want to make a remake of a perfectly good film and make one that doesn’t have the same energy and pull? OK. I got it, it’s the damn money — stupid! But at least this dullish Hannibal Lecter product is a better told story than the most recent cartoonish franchise version by Ridley Scott (come to think of it–better told but not as much fun). What’s wrong with this one for starters is that the popular actors are not as endearing as the lesser known ones in the older film version, adapted from a Thomas Harris novel. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is not as scary as the more frightening and persuasive skin-chilling performance given by Manhunter’s Brian Cox. Hopkins just seemed like a hammy actor, instead of digging into his character and letting us see his insides. He’s going solely for the campy comedy and thereby losing sight of what makes his evil persona so arresting. The second major disappointment in the casting was Ralph Fiennes. His idea of being a loony was to cover his back with a tattoo of the Red Dragon, but his portrayal was not a chilling one because we never got into his mindset. Instead, everything was given to us about his abusive childhood explaining why he’s so twisted. Fiennes was miscast and couldn’t give his villain the weight he deserved. The third major disappointment in the casting was Edward Norton in the role of FBI agent Will Graham. His inadequate performance ruined any hope for the film surviving its insipid recipe of churning out another serial-killer dish by-the-numbers. In this recipe, all the novel’s brainwork and verbal interplay that made it such an absorbing read was just never realized in the filmmaker’s belabored process of getting to the action. I don’t know what Norton was thinking by acting in a whispery voice and so earnestly and goody-goody, but he seemed unconvincing as someone with the gift for ‘visualizing a crime’ and the gut-checking nerve to track down the deadly deviants he’s up against. He seemed less like a fed agent and more like a Method Actor trying to get a handle on a part he could never get a grip on. He was a bore. And speaking of boredom, how about the unexciting direction of director/co-writer Brett Ratner (Rush Hour)? Ted Tally was the co-screenwriter (he won an Oscar as screenwriter for Silence of the Lambs), but like the director only turned in a workmanlike job. Aside from getting all the book details right, “Dragon” offered little else to sink one’s teeth into. This empty celluloid version is merely a rehash job and adds not one thing of value to the original.

The film opens on a note of gleeful cannibalism as the brilliant forensic psychologist and consultant for the FBI, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who is also a philanthropist for the arts, serves at his soiree for the board members of the Baltimore Symphony the flesh of his most recent victims. In the next scene smarty-pants FBI agent Will Graham confronts Lecter at his home and tells the consultant that he overlooked in his serial killer profile that he’s a human flesh-eater. Lecter doesn’t take too kindly to Will’s put down and stabs him with a stiletto, but Will manages to get the better of him and heroically has him arrested. Recovering from his mental and physical wounds, Will retires to be a mechanic and reside in his isolated idyllic beach home in Marathon, Florida, with his nice wife (Parker) and young son Josh (Jones).

Will’s former FBI boss, Jack Crawford (Keitel), calls on him at his home and requests that he help form a profile of the latest serial killer dubbed the “Tooth Fairy,” because in his two family mutilation murders in Atlanta and Birmingham — he left teeth marks all over the victim’s bodies. It was a poor filmmaking decision to spend most of the remaining film time watching how clever Will is in predictably solving this difficult case. Will verbally fences with his nemesis Hannibal to help him get to know the Tooth Fairy better and he constantly impresses his boss by coming up with clues no one else in the FBI comes up with, while Crawford shows Will that once he gets a lead he knows how to efficiently run with it. There’s also a chance for Will to look down his nose on the media as he plays dirty with the wormy and scrappy reporter for one of those rag-like tabloid newspapers, the National Tattler, Freddie Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and sets him up as bait for the serial killer. All those stale scenes took away any breath of fresh air the film needed.

There were no psychological revelations in this psychological thriller, instead the filmmaker presents us with all the plotline facts in a dry manner about the Red Dragon being a William Blake painting that a disfigured photo lab technician, Francis Dolarhyde (Fiennes), envisions as his master. The Dragon orders him to kill so that he can feel the power of God and be transformed. Lecter acts as a mentor to both the killer and Will, but in this film there’s no point to be deduced about such a relationship the book and the previous film did wonders with. By the time the evil and humorless serial killer comes into the picture and is fixated on his co-worker, the blind sweetheart Reba McClane (Emily Watson), there’s only room for some action sequences to end the film on as all the psychological reasoning and character development never materialized. What this film couldn’t do, was enter into the head of either serial killer featured.

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