Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore are an odd couple in "Hannibal." Click on images to see larger versions..
'Hannibal': a meal
Even if it hadn't been conceived in the long shadow of "The Silence of the Lambs," "Hannibal" would still fail to satisfy.
As a would-be thriller, it just has too much down and dull time, thanks to a weak script by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian and uninspired direction by Ridley Scott.
But given the existence of "The Silence of the Lambs" and even "Manhunter," the Michael Mann film in which we first meet Hannibal Lecter "Hannibal" doesn't just fail to satisfy, it actually disappoints.
We wanted a better film than this, and while it has some wonderful moments and performances, its disjointedness and lack of story focus lead to more yawns than screams.
It is the story of Clarice Starling and Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter, 10 years after his escape from prison in "The Silence of the Lambs." She has continued with the FBI, where she is being treated less than fairly, and must suffer the annoyance of federal agent Paul Krendler. Hannibal is living in Europe, where he has found employment for his elegant taste in the arts and the classics.
The thumb in Hannibal's happy pie is Mason Verger, a ridiculously rich man who was horribly mutilated in a Hannibal incident, and who is willing to spend a lot of his money to catch Lecter and return the favor.
It is Verger's machinations that bring Lecter out of hiding, and back to the United States, where he and Clarice are to meet again.
The sloppy subplotting includes Krendler and an Italian cop trying to get their hands on Lecter for the sake of Verger's money.
Moore is fine as Clarice, especially in displaying the emotional toughness we expect Clarice to have accrued in the last decade. The one weakness is that she doesn't really have that hardbody toughness we'd expect of Starling, that Jodie Foster portrayed so well. Moore is just too soft, even when running an exercise course or shooting guns.
Hopkins is great, as always, and we get to see more of how he really is a monster, not just an elegant and sophisticated man who happens to be in prison.
Giancarlo Giannini has a wonderful turn as the Italian cop who is desperate to give his beautiful young wife (played by Francesca Neri) nice and expensive things. He is at once dissipated yet still filled with soul. His remarkable eyes tell us all, and his turn with Hannibal is the best part of the film.
Gary Oldman is terrific, as always, in the Verger role. Ray Liotta is as good as he can be as the corrupt Krendler, but is poorly served by inept script and direction.
Problems include the silly way Verger wants to kill Lecter, which is more laughable than scary, and that the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal is so clumsily delivered.
Jonathan Demme, directing "The Silence of the Lambs," was able to keep Clarice and Hannibal appealing and interesting on many levels, including regarding their relationship, which made the horrible tale actually charming in a way.
We want more of that kind of charm in "Hannibal," and while an effort has been made, Scott fails to deliver at least, on as many levels as did Demme.
It's a stew prepared by too many cooks, and some of the chunks just don't compliment each other.
Gianancarlo Giannini is wonderful in "Hannibal," communicating a world of meaning with his soulful eyes..
The main problem with "Hannibal," the multi-bazillion dollar grossing thriller, is "Silence of the Lambs." Inevitably, it is going to be compared to that modern classic (after all, it is a sequel) and quite frankly, it doesn't hold up.
But y'know, director Ridley Scott really isn't trying to do that. To his credit, "Hannibal" is a completely different type of movie, not so much suspenseful as visceral; it is more horror than it is heartstopping.
Some years have passed since the events of "Silence of the Lambs." Clarice Starling (a terribly miscast Julianne Moore) has managed to alienate most of her superiors and peers at the FBI, and after a botched arrest which leaves her partner dead and Starling under intense media scrutiny, has begun to have doubts about her career.
Meanwhile, escaped madman Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, reprising his role from "Silence") has settled into a quiet life in Florence, Italy, as an academic. Careful not to attract too much attention to himself (and circumspectly wearing gloves and wiping wineglasses to protect from his fingerprints being discovered), he has found a niche that appeals to his love of antiquity, fine dining and academia. The problem is, Hannibal the Cannibal has become bored.
The only living survivor of a Lecter attack, multi-billionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, wonderful under a queasiness-inducing makeup job), has been plotting his revenge since Lecter's escape, but has been unable to locate the good doctor. Starling's disgrace becomes Verger's chance to smoke the good doctor out of hiding, and he uses a Justice Department bureaucrat (Ray Liotta) to do just that.
In the meantime, the academic has been spotted by an Italian policeman (Giancarlo Giannini), who is trying to support a high-maintenance, beautiful wife on a policeman's salary. The reward for bringing in Lecter proves to be too tempting for the lawman, and so the game is afoot.
At the risk of giving too much away, things go south and Lecter comes home, mainly to observe Starling. He has a rather unique bond with her, and although his motivations are never made as clear as they are in the book, there seems to be a hint of romance in the doctor's motivation.
Quite frankly, there is a lot of gore here, much more than either of the first two Lecter movies (Michael Mann's "Manhunter" being the first). Although there is some nifty viscera (particularly the scene where a man eats a meal you won't find in the average fast food joint ... well, then again, you never know), that alone won't carry a movie.
What does is story and performance. The acting is certainly solid. Hopkins chews the scenery like his character chews other characters but still makes Lecter one of the most interesting screen villains ever ... in fact, "villain" is not quite the right term for Lecter. Most of the movie, you spend rooting for him to get away from those who wish to take away his freedom, but you are reminded at every turn just how dangerous and homicidal he is. It's not unlike rooting for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Triple H and other outlaw wrestlers.
Giannini is as soulful an actor as there is today; here is a man not hemmed in by desperation, but by resignation. His pain is quiet and restrained, mostly communicated through his eyes and a sad smile.
Oldman's scarred, twisted Mason Verger is the true baddie of the movie, and I am not aware of any actor today who does bad guys as well as Gary Oldman. Verger revels in his wickedness, wearing his scars like a badge of honor. He can't let the pain and suffering go - but in a sick way, he needs them to be who he is.
Director Ridley Scott must have been flashing back to his "Blade Runner" days when filming this; the movie is filled with rain, umbrellas and crowds (although the neon is missing). The cityscape of Florence is in its own way a major part of the movie's allure; the beautiful, ancient, civilized Florence has an underbelly that can't be trifled with.
There are certain unexpected moments of lightness - for example, prominently featured in Lecter's kitchen is a vegetarian cookbook. However, for the most part, there is a heavy sense of impending destiny that drags the movie down. The showdowns between Lecter and Verger, as well as the one between Lecter and Starling are both too predictable.
Moore, while a fine actress, doesn't really capture the toughness of Starling. As the good doctor (Gone, not Lecter) pointed out in his review, Moore doesn't really have the physicality needed for the part (although, to be fair, neither does recent mother Jodie Foster at this point). Moore never for a moment convinces me that she is dangerous. In all of the physical confrontations she is involved with, she gets bested rather easily.
While the ending of the movie differs significantly from the more controversial ending of the book, I think it works better. I never really understood why novelist Thomas Harris had Starling do what she did at the book's conclusion; the ending screenwriter David Mamet came up with here seemed more consistent to her character. Nevertheless, I'm not a huge fan of Mamet's writing; he is a bit too cerebral and slow for my tastes. Here, the pace drags and the plot is obfuscated with unnecessary little "See how smart I am"-type intellectualisms that I found a tad pretentious. Did we really need Lecter reading sonnets by Dante aloud?
"Hannibal" has already made a ton of money, and there's no reason why it shouldn't. I recommend it mainly for the performances of Hopkins, Oldman and Giannini and I think the movie works despite the godawful script, elephantine pacing and inept plotting.
Let's face it. Most of us are going to see it regardless of the reviews. Let's just say this is a good movie that didn't meet the impossible expectations set for it.
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See cast, credit and other details about "Hannibal" at Internet Movie Data Base.