movie film review | chris tookey

Red Dragon

2002 - Universal Studios . Photo by Glen Wilson. - all rights reserved
  Red Dragon Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
6.00 /10
Hannibal Lecter: Anthony Hopkins , Will Graham: Edward Norton , Francis Dolarhyde: Ralph Fiennes
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Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally. Based on the book by Thomas Harris

Released: 2002
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 124

The central figure is Federal Agent turned Florida boat-builder Will Graham (Edward Norton, pictured right), the man who put Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, pictured left) behind bars and nearly paid for it with his life. Will's old boss (Harvey Keitel) lures him out of retirement to help solve another series of murders, by someone the Feds call the "Tooth Fairy" because of his predilection for leaving bite-marks on his female victims. Will hopes that Lecter, as a part-time profiler and full-time psychopath, will help him in return for some prison privileges - only to discover that Lecter has a much more sinister agenda in mind.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Just to increase our sense of impending threat, we see a young blind woman (Emily Watson) becoming involved with a gauche man with a disfigured lip (Ralph Fiennes), little realising that he is the Tooth Fairy, or as he prefers to think of himself "Red Dragon" (the name is a reference to one of William Blake's most apocalyptic pictures).

Will Beauty tame the Beast, or will he kill her before Will can reach them?

What do you have to do these days to earn an 18 certificate? Red Dragon contains a gruesome double stabbing, the shooting of innocent children, torture, mutilation, rape, and a screaming tabloid journalist going up in flames while superglued to a wheelchair.

Mind you, the scariest thing in the entire picture is Hannibal Lecter's ponytail. He wears it before the opening titles, when he's still a forensic psychiatrist with the instincts of an extreme music critic. So unimpressed is he with a flautist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra that he fillets him and serves him to the local Arts grandees as an entree.

Heaven knows what he'd have done to his hairdresser if he'd seen the back of his head in a mirror.

Red Dragon is a distinct improvement on the campy let-down that was Ridley Scott's Hannibal. Despite his hairstyle, Lecter has his dignity back, and his sense of sneaky, snaky malice. And he is reduced once again - as he was in the Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs - to an important supporting role.

There's plenty of suspense inherent in the story and an extremely talented cast. Two other excellent actors are also involved - Mary Louise Parker as Will's wife and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a sleazy journalist with a cavalier approach to the truth.

Unfortunately, the actors aren't stretched by the material, and Edward Norton is miscast. He looks too fit and youthful to have been invalided out of the FBI. The script airbrushes out all Will's mental problems, which are at the core of the novel and the first (and better) film of this novel, Manhunter, Michael Mann's cold but immensely stylish 1986 picture starring William Petersen as Will and Brian Cox as Hannibal.

The disturbing subtext of the novel and Manhunter was the sense of a nice guy having to reach within himself to think like a crazed, sexually deviant serial killer. Can any man ever be quite the same, having done that?

Ted Tally's screenplay duly sets this up as a theme of the new movie but director Brett Ratner loses it, at considerable cost to the film's depth and texture. It's hard to tell whether the mistake was made during rewrites, shooting or editing, but it leaves Norton, who was so skilful at displaying mental derangement in Primal Fear and Fight Club, with little opportunity for character development.

The film-makers don't even allow him to be as intelligent as he is in the book - his big moment of revelation about how the Tooth Fairy selected his victims comes after most of the brighter members of the audience will already have made the right deduction. This is easily Norton's least distinguished performance on celluloid.

Just as Norton isn't nearly as impressive as William Petersen in Manhunter, Ralph Fiennes doesn't have the natural scariness of Tom Noonan as the Tooth Fairy. Fiennes looks like a very accomplished actor giving a brave performance, much of it in the nude; he's too good-looking and stylish to convince.

The same goes for Emily Watson as the blind girl, understandably put out when she realises that the only man with whom she feels a sexual affinity is a psychopathic serial killer.

The second-hand look of the film isn't a patch on the first three Lecter movies. Brett Ratner, whose previous biggest successes were the Rush Hour movies, has the services of a top-flight cinematographer in Dante Spinotti (who also shot Manhunter), but Ratner hasn't the mastery of tension or visual metaphor of his classier predecessors, Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott.

Take the sequence where Will first goes to visit Hannibal in jail. Ratner does his best to reproduce the lighting and production design that surrounded Jodie Foster's descent to meet Lecter in Lambs, but utterly fails to generate the same spine-tingling suspense.

The film is a solidly crafted and competently acted thriller. But the impulse to re-make Manhunter was hardly creative, and the mercenary nature of the enterprise does show through. This is clearly a hit, but that doesn't save it from being a B movie that largely wastes an A-list cast.

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