Directed by Ridley Scott
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini, Frankie Faison, Zeljko Ivanek.
2001 131 minutes
Rated: (for strong gruesome violence, some nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 9, 2001.
In 1991, a smallish psychological thriller by the name of "The Silence of the Lambs" was released, and not only did it become a critical and financial smash hit, but it later went down as one of the few motion pictures to ever sweep the five major Academy Awards (for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay). It also, arguably, began the fad of making films involving serial killers, none of which have been able to match its excellence since.
When "Hannibal," the long-awaited follow-up to "The Silence of the Lambs," was finally unleashed in bookstores in 1999, it was met with much criticism from critics, but quite a lot of praise from mainstream readers. Taking just over a year for the film sequel to go into production, the finished project gives fairly good reason for why original director Jonathan Demme and lead actress Jodie Foster declined to return. In place of Demme is Ridley Scott (2000's "Gladiator"), and stepping into the shoes of Clarice Starling is Julianne Moore (1999's "Magnolia").
Unfortunately, the decade-long wait for a filmed sequel proves to not have been worth it. As with most inferior continuations, "Hannibal" stands as being both more of the same, as well as an entirely different breed. In place of the psychological fear in "The Silence of the Lambs" is an increased amount of gory gross-out moments; in place of the tight, assured writing is an often aimless excursion without a set destination; and in place of a powerful human resonance is a bleak coldness that renders all of the characters and, for that matter, the entire affair, into something as irrelevant as it is disappointing.
Set ten years after then-novice Clarice Starling aided in the capture of ghastly serial killer Buffalo Bill before he was able to murder his latest victim, she is now one of the top FBI agents on her squad. When a drug bust goes awry, leaving fellow officers dead and Clarice to take five lives in self defense, she finds herself in hot water when word spreads that she shot a female suspect holding her baby. Her latest assignment comes in the form of prosperous millionaire and former child molester Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), whose face has been left horribly disfigured after a run-in with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in the past. Mr. Verger is dead-set on luring Hannibal into his clutches, and wants Clarice to act as his bait. The problem is, ever since Hannibal escaped from the Memphis Psychiatric Prison in 1990, he has been nowhere to be found, not a trace of him anywhere.
Switch to Florence, Italy, straightforward Italian investigator Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) has run into the website for "The Ten Most Wanted" list, and immediately identifies the photograph of Hannibal Lecter, who is living in the area and he plans to expose for the $3-million reward. What Pazzi does not realize, however, is that the sly Hannibal has plans of his own, and is growing closer and closer by the day into returning to the United States and rekindling his relationship with his old friend, Clarice.
An occasionally graphic motion picture with the power to actually turn people's stomachs, "Hannibal" is a gorgeously designed and photographed thriller with seemingly very little going on upstairs. Whereas "The Silence of the Lambs" included a clear-cut premise that aided in developing the unforgettably offbeat relationship between Clarice and Hannibal, "Hannibal" seems strangely tacked on--a movie that very slowly moves from one major setpiece to another with little depth or feeling. Even the delightfully wicked interplay between the two main characters is all but missing, as they fail to enter the same frame until the final fifteen minutes (and even then, one of them is heavily drugged by a dose of Morphine).
In the role for which he will always be remembered above everything else, Anthony Hopkins is superb every second he appears, further developing the decidedly complex mind of Hannibal Lecter, who wavers effortlessly between a charmer and a psycho, a sane man and a very sick individual. Saying this, something seems to be amiss about the role. While Hopkins appears more often than he did in its predecessor, he doesn't seem to have as much to do, nor nearly as many interesting things to say.
The lackluster treatment of Clarice Starling is even more of a shame. While Julianne Moore has proven herself to be an outstanding performer on more than one occasion, she inevitably pales in comparison to Foster. Then again, the Starling of "The Silence of the Lambs" had a tragic past, smart goals for herself, and a lot of heart, while she basically slums it up here, spending most of her time in front of a computer. Moore is as good as any replacement could have possibly been, but even she is unable to make up for the weaknesses on the written page.
What does stand as a worthy creation is that of the grossly disfigured Mason Verger, played to the nightmarish hilt by Gary Oldman. Oldman, enhanced by a bang-up makeup job, commandeers the proceeding with such a passionate ferocity and monstrous physical appearance that he is not easy to forget.
For the majority of its middle section, which takes place in Italy, the film stops dead in its tracks, seeming to have neither a goal nor a purpose. As we follow investigator Razzi, well played by Giancarlo Giannini, growing more and more close to setting up Hannibal's capture, we are intermittently enthralled, but can't help but wonder where Clarice has gone to by the 20-minute mark that she is M.I.A. The entire middle 45 minutes are its worst, as it ultimately takes a whole lot of time without getting anywhere.
The sure-to-be-controversial climax, which remains reasonably faithful to the novel (save for the printed word's final pages), is set at the lakeside home of smarmy, racist politician Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta). What occurs I wouldn't dare to even hint at, but suffice to say, it elicited a great many groans and sickened comments within the audience. It's strikingly gory and unsettling, yes, but it also comes as a major letdown, not only to the story at hand, but also to the otherwise intelligent character of Clarice, whose dignity is somehow cheapened by the sight of her stumbling around while high on drugs. The final one-on-one between Lecter and Clarice is thought-provoking, though far too abrupt to really make a lasting impact. Besides, it comes too little, too late.
Equipped with style to spare and many bold images (including one in which Hannibal outstretches his arms while on a slab, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jesus Christ), "Hannibal" isn't a bad film as much as it is a murky, ambitious mess. It's a shame, too. Because "The Silence of the Lambs" was so very good, and "Hannibal" never rises to the task, with a series of interesting ideas that never form a satisfying whole, it exposes its most glaring flaw of all: there was no reason for this movie to be made in the first place.
©2001 by Dustin Putman