This years fund is called Red Dragon, another adaptation of a Thomas Harris Hannival Lecter thriller which was already made back in 1989 as Manhunter. That film, which didnt do well at the box office, was made by Michael Mann, who was still in his oh-baby-dont-let-my-law-enforcement-deal-ruin-what-we-got phase. William Peterson played the FBI agent with the empathetic serial killer skills while Brian Cox was soigné Hannibal. Dante Spinotti, making his American debut, shot the movie in cool, cool colors, which might have drained the film of its suspense, had the story had the potential for any to begin with. Ah, but thats the dirty secret of the Thomas Harris films.
To bring them off at all, you have to need either a shameless and knowing director (Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs) or one who is shameless and grandiose (Ridley Scott, Hannibal). This time, we get Brett Ratner, who is apparently just in a big hurry. Despite the fact that Spinotti who has since done award-winning work on L.A. Confidential and The Insider is again behind the camera, Red Dragon doesnt look much better than youd expect an expensive Hollywood film to look. Theres not much action and when there is, its not particularly thrilling or shocking.
Mostly, theres just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Pseudo-psycho-intellectual gab that never stops. The movies made from Harriss books arent thrillers, theyre talk fests interrupted now and then by gore. In Manhunter, Mann tried to fix the problem by interposing pregnant silences lots of them. It didnt work. Demme, who really did solve the problem, treated the talk as actual acts of violence, assaults on the listener both within the movie and in the audience. Unfortunately, that made for a cheap-thrills kind of movie. Scott decided to come up with images as inflated and empty as the conversation and then pile on the grotesquerie, a solution which is occasionally provocative but generally dull.
Ratner decided to rush from one scene to the next, barely establishing connections theyre arent many anyway in the hopes of getting a rise out of the audience with something, anything. The scene he dawdles over most involves a serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) and a tabloid reporter, Freddy Loundes (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hes got tied up in an old-fashioned wheelchair. Dolarhyde is angry that Freddy questioned his heterosexuality in an article so hes kidnapped him and brought him down to his old Southern mansion. Dolarhyde has been toying with his captive and the audience, reaching an anti-climactic finish when he strips off his clothing and reveals a full-body tattoo of a dragon based on a print by William Blake. Its a very showy scene, the two actors respectively prancing around and pleading for his life, Ratner coming up with obligatory one-shots and close-ups as needed. Its also a total yawner, every action foreordained, a mere entracte until we get back to the real show, Sir Anthonys Hannibal bit.
The old lion gets to do a turn in the outside world with FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) before he ends up in his cage (the movies a prequel to Lambs), so you think hed be energized. But the good sir Knight, well-fed and sleek, doesnt seem all that interested anymore. Hes grown bored with his role and either cant or doesnt care to hide it.
Whats more fascinating is that the public hasnt gotten bored with Hannibal, the man who makes cannibalism a dull subject. One of the movies earliest scenes is a dinner party at Lecters home, a nightmarish experience not because hes obviously serving human flesh to his unknowing guests, but because hes such a bore. Imagine accepting a dinner invitation from such a man and being stuck at his table for two hours. Now theres a subject for a real horror movie.