Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.
So let’s talk about sequels for a moment. Typically, sequels are a disappointment, although I have to admit that they’ve gotten a bit better in recent years. But they still don’t have the best of reputations when it comes to movies. I hadn’t heard a great deal good about Hannibal going in. It’s ten years removed from The Silence of the Lambs, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but can be. It also replaced Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling with Julianne Moore. Far be it from me to complain about Julianne Moore, but Clarice will always be Jodie Foster to me, especially since Moore spends a good chunk of the film attempting to recreate Foster’s patois.
Hannibal kind of picks up where the previous film left off. Lector (still played by Anthony Hopkins) has escaped and is somewhere in the wider world. Clarice is continuing to work at her job with the FBI, and is in charge of a drug bust that goes badly. She’s saddled with the responsibility and blame for this despite it clearly being the fault of another person. As it happens, a considerable amount of Hannibal concerns her relationship with the bureau, being particularly antagonistic. I honestly don’t remember this from the first film; here, all of her interactions with others at the FBI are hostile, particularly with Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta).
We’ve also got the horribly mutilated pedophile Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) to deal with here. Verger is the lone survivor of one of Lector’s attacks, and is both horribly mutilated and a quadriplegic. Naturally, he takes a keen interest in Lector, and has been working for years to catch the man himself so he can enact a particularly terrible revenge.
The third string of the plot here concerns Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) in Florence, Italy. It turns out that this is where Lector has turned up under an assumed name, and Pazzi has slowly twigged to the man’s presence. So, we’re going to get all sorts of people hunting down Hannibal Lector, and slowly a little bit more is going to come out about him.
Here’s the thing: Hannibal misses the mark in almost every respect despite having a tremendous pedigree. The source material is written by Thomas Harris and adapted for the screen by no less a luminary than David Mamet. It was directed by Ridley Scott, who certainly knows his way around a movie set and has been more than a little successful in producing suspense and thrillers. And yet what we’re given is something that seems to be entirely driven by the lowest possible motives. Everything that made The Silence of the Lambs work as a film has been leeched out of this one.
What remains when you get rid of the active non-Hannibal serial killer, the unique chemistry between Lector and Starling, and the mental and emotional give-and-take of the first film is just a bunch of ugliness, gore, and gratuitous violence. A lot of this seems to be just ugly and disgusting for the sake of being ugly and disgusting. Say what you will about Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, but there was a certain poetry to the man, a darkness that saw much of what he did as pragmatic, or at least a means to an end. That’s no longer the case with this film. He’s just killing people to kill them, and doing so in the most horrible ways he can. And why? Because evidently that’s what the audience is supposed to want.
The film doesn’t even have the sense to create a mythology that it sticks with. We’re told at one point that at least some of Lector’s murder/cannibalism events were done for, for lack of a better way to say it, artistic reasons. He murdered and devoured a flautist who he though cheapened the local symphony, for instance. That’s kind of funny in a way, but here, he’s just killing and eating people, or threatening to, whenever he feels like it.
It’s disappointing because for whatever reason, Hannibal Lector was given the Freddy Kruger treatment. Kruger was terrifying in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street because his power was still undefined. He existed to kill and did so in horrible ways. As that series progressed, Kruger became the star of the films and no longer the antagonist. His kills were cheered by the crowd, as were the one-liners that went with them. Freddy became not the villain or the foil for the teen heroes, but the antihero you wanted to see get a few quality kills before being temporarily defeated once again. That works for an obviously fanciful character who kills people by showing up in their dreams. It’s a stupid path for a character like Hannibal Lector.
I honestly didn’t expect a great deal from this, but I expected not to be angry with it. And I am angry with it. It didn’t have to be great, but it shouldn’t have been shoddy and it shouldn’t have been lazy. Hopkins does his best with the role; he gives it everything he can. It’s not enough. Everyone else involved let him (and us) down.
Why to watch Hannibal: Anthony Hopkins exudes class in spite of himself.
Why not to watch: It loses everything that made The Silence of the Lambs great.