Retro Review: Hannibal

Written: February 8, 2001

What can one say about Hollywood re-awakening one of their greatest monsters?

It’s ten years after the events in “Silence of the Lambs” and we are introduced to a very tortured man. The man is an invalid and dreams of inflicting his revenge on his attacker. His attacker being Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

It turns out that he was Lecter’s sixth victim and he reluctantly survived. The invalid’s name is Mason Verger. (Gary Oldman). Mason hires some professionals to capture Lecter thus bringing Hannibal Lecter out of hiding.

As these events multiply, Lecter meets with a curious Italian police inspector (Giancarlo Giannni) in Florence. It turns out that Lecter has settled in Florence and has begun teaching at a museum. His life is pretty tame until he encounters Mason’s entourage and the overly curious inspector. It seems the hunt is on and Lecter is up for the challenge.

Meanwhile trying to survive the politics of an FBI career, Clarice Starling (now played beautifully by Julianne Moore) is dealing with some pressure from politicians after she barely survived a Mexican standoff with a baby carrying mother. Starling is disgraced and eventually ends up in the basement of the FBI. Starling will eventually learn that her old nemesis Dr. Hannibal Lecter is coming out of hiding.

Hannibal is quite different than “Silence of the Lambs”. It’s so radically different that it reminded me just how different “Manhunter” (the 1st Lecter film) was to “Lambs”.

You don’t have the dark scummy atmosphere, the trans-sexual villain, the screaming girl in the pit, and an insecure Starling like we all remember from “Lambs”. Instead we have utterly beautiful European landscapes and architecture, a very confident Starling, a creepy invalid, and a more dramatic Lecter if that is possible. I really liked the different approach because the film didn’t feel like a sequel. I also loved the texture and filming of the lush European backdrop.

Director Ridley Scott really has proven he knows how to develop and expose the world within his movies. His approach is subtle and forthcoming which blends very nicely with this thriller.

I liked Hopkins in his return but he did have a couple weak moments that had me debate how insane and devious this man actually is. One could reflect these weak moments as apart of the humanizing of Hannibal which was such a dominant force in the novel.

I found that Hannibal was viewed a lot more as a human being in this film than the last but I was never really convinced he wanted to be rehabilitated. Was that a key element to this film’s premise?

What surprised me the most was the performance of Julianne Moore. As far as I am concerned she nailed this role. Her accent and audio mannerisms were dead-on to Jodie Foster’s in “Lambs”. I really did believe this was where Starling as a character would be 10 years later. I also really admired how Julianne found strength in a woman being abused by the system.

She could have just let the character just fall apart but instead she drove in a beacon of strength into her. In some circumstances I found her more interesting then Lecter. That feeling never occurred in “Lambs”.

When you compare “Lambs” and “Hannibal” you might see that the scenes with Mason Verger are a lot like the scenes with Hannibal in “Lambs”. What I refer to is that in Mason’s twisted vengeful way he is more sinister than Lecter. Also his scenes involve a lot of mood lighting, cryptic dialogue and a little revelation of fear. Gary Oldman’s Verger is an amazing performance and he is the full force of evil in here. Lecter is like a bear (savage and loves flesh when hungry) and Verger is the big game hunter (demented and completely focused on the hunt).

My first reaction was to give this film a perfect score but as I rattled it around in my head I did start to see some of the flaws. I found the ending didn’t climax or conclude the relationship between Starling and Lecter.

This ending left me wanting a final showdown which never materialized. It seemed to skirt around something that was missing.

Other than that nagging feeling this film is another breakthrough for director Scott and infamous screenwriter David Mamet. I will be anxiously awaiting the DVD so that I can see if there was an alternate ending which may alleviate that nagging feeling.

(4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

Special Note: This film is the perfect example of how a novel-adaptation can be quite different finally brought before the camera. People who remain religious to the novel of “Hannibal” may have a problem with this adaptation. As a critic, I always judge the film for the content portrayed on the silver screen and try my very best to ignore all the stories and content before its release. Judge the film for what it is.

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