Red Dragon

Red Dragon (15)

And so Hollywood, recognising a good thing when it sees one, goes back to the starting grid and turns the first grisly Hannibal Lecter story into a bonafide blockbuster.

Of course, the tale has already been told in Michael Mann’s 1986 movie Manhunter, in which Brian Cox was the caged psychopath (then known as Lektor) and Tom Noonan was the killer on the loose known as The Tooth Fairy.

In this big-budget re-hash mad-eyed Anthony Hopkins reprises his Oscar-winning role as the man who came to dinner and provides the most chilling element in a movie in which he plays a supporting role in his own story.

Beginning several years before the events of The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon tells of FBI agent Will Graham (a ridiculously young-looking Edward Norton) who, some time after coming too close to the flesh-eating doctor, is asked to go back and quiz him on the new boy on the block – a psychopath who slaughters whole families and replaces their eyes with mirrors.

Lecter enjoys his little games with Graham but eventually passes over some information. It is enough to put our hero on the trail of his obscene quarry.

Made more in the spirit of The Silence of the Lambs as opposed to the Grand Guignol of Hannibal, Red Dragon is part standard detective story, part whodunit, part haunted house thriller.

Neither as frightening as The Silence of the Lambs nor as pedestrian as Hannibal, Red Dragon nevertheless provides an effective and nerve-jangling introduction to the cinema villain we love to fear.

Director Brett (Rush Hour) Ratner takes the mood and atmosphere back to Jonathan Demme’s original sinister picture and enlists a star-packed cast (Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy) to move the story along.

In truth Keitel and Hoffman have little to do, and it’s left to Fiennes to hold the eye as the killer. Unlike Hopkins he lacks the bone-chilling menace to make an effective monster; Hopkins, on the other hand, utterly steals the film in his relatively few (and brief) appearances as Lecter.

Unlike Ridley Scott, who piled on the gore in Hannibal, Ratner prefers leaving the guts of Red Dragon down to the power of suggestion. Hence the film’s most stomach-churning moment comes when Norton enters the bedroom of a victim’s home and finds in it evidence of the most dreadful carnage. From family home to slaughterhouse in one breath. The moment looms large in the film and, with all its inherent awfulness, works memorably.

Despite its shortcomings Red Dragon is a welcome addition to the Lecter canon. In many ways it marks a watershed in the way Hollywood treats film series in that Manhunter gave rise to The Silence of the Lambs, which gave rise to Hannibal, which led to a public clamour for a feature film version of the original novel. Sixteen years on from the first film, here it is.

It also provides audiences with a real look into Lecter’s mind – courtesy of sideways glances, vocal inflections and dread smiles from Hopkins – and tenders clues as to why this horror of humanity has become an icon for the masses.

Finally, Red Dragon is heavy with the expectation of what may be still to come. As we know, the second serving is not a palatable dish…

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