Published on June 15th, 2008 | by simeon0
It has often been said that things in life have a way of coming full circle; I cite the change of seasons, the cycle of life, and relationships as an example. There is a starting point, and end, and a new beginning. Such is the case of the film “Red Dragon” by author Thomas Harris. The story began its life as a book, was made into a film named “Manhunter”, and is now reborn in grand fashion as a star-studded blockbuster.
For those of you who were not aware, “Red Dragon” was the book the introduced the word to Hannibal Lector, and set the stage for his exploits in the books and film “The Silence of The Lambs”, and “Hannibal”. Not only were the films and books hugely successful, but also they made the character of Hannibal Lecter famous and forever etched Sir Anthony Hopkins image with the doctor. The solid Box office and book sales of “Hannibal”, despite mixed reviews, showed that despite an 11year layoff, audiences wanted more tales of the mad doctor. Unable to get momentum for a sequel without a new book, producer Dino DeLorentis looked to the past and decided to return Lecter to the screen in the form of a prequel by expanding upon his character in a prequel to his other tales.
Dragon tells the story of how socialite psychologist Lecter was caught by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) as he worked with Graham to solve the very crimes he had committed. Both Graham and Lector are injured in the confrontation, and soon face many hardships ahead of them. For Lector it is his trail and imprisonment, and for Graham, it is a painful and long stay in the hospital and a very near brush with death. The years pass, and Graham and his wife and son live a peaceful life in Florida having left the FBI behind years ago for sunsets and boat engine work. Two brutal murders later brings FBI Chief Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to Graham’s door in an effort to beg his former master profiler to return to work, on a temporary basis to shed some light on the case. Although highly reluctant to return to his work, Graham agrees to help for a little while in an effort to save lives. Graham is able to discover some clues as to the nature of the killer (dubbed the Tooth Fairy by the tabloids due to the odd bite marks on his victims), but is unable to gain the insights needed to solve the case. In an effort to beet the lunar cycle that the killer seems to run on, Graham turns to the incarcerated Lector for clues. Lector is a master at playing games and answering questions in riddles, as Clarice Starling
would come to learn in the next two books. Lecter respects Graham, but has animosity to the man who put him behind bars. For every step forward there are three steps back, and of course, Lecter has a price for everything. Graham is surrounded by his fear of Lecter tempered by his desire to save lives and learn from the Doctor, as clearly, Lecter is the best option to crack the case. Complicating the investigation is a sleazy tabloid reporter named Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has a past history with Graham, and who is hampering the investigation with his unethical storylines and attempts at news surrounding the case.
What sets the story apart from other crime dramas is the killer himself, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Finnes). He is a man who is clearly a dangerous individual, but amidst the horror, shows a pain and suffering that is brought on by conditions ranging from years of abuse to a very low self-image. Dolarhyde is trying to transform himself and thinks that by transforming (murdering) the others he will accomplish his goal and gain the respect and power he craves. The theme of transformation is common in the works of Harris as Buffalo Bill, from “The Silence of the Lambs” likened his change to be that of butterfly from a cocoon, showing characters that are in a constant state of change. Dolarhyde is such a character as he develops a relationship with a blind lady named Reba (Emily Watson) who does not see the monster he believes he is, and causes him to question his ways even as he descends further into madness. It is a nice change from the standard stock villains to see a character with a bit of depth to him, especially in a film that would have been all to easy to give all of the attention to Lecter and Graham.
Eventually things come to a head in the picture as the various characters find their destinies intertwined and on a collision course where the final transformations will take place.
“Red Dragon” is a well-written and very well acted film. Brett Rattner who directed the “Rush Hour” films has remained true to the novel and the characters and the script by Oscar-winner Ted Tally (who won for his draft of “The Silence of The Lambs”), sets a steady tone without being plodding. Hopkins acts as if he is slipping on a pair of comfy slippers, as his Lecter is haunting yet mesmerizing as you find yourself unable to look away from him. He blends humor and horror without ever ceasing to be a blue-blooded aristocrat, making him one of the most memorable villains ever created. Norton also shins as Graham and establishes once again that he is one of the most gifted young actors in film today as his portrayal of Graham’s determination despite his personal fears and misgivings was amazing. The easygoing intensity he brought to the character was never forced yet seemed appropriate for every situation he was in. The film was largely accurate to the book and easily blended in the expanded Lecter scenes without sacrificing any of the stories original content. If I had to find a fault with the film it would be that the final part of the film had a few too many Hollywood clichés for me, and that the film slowed a bit ¾ of the way in from a pacing that had been appropriate. It was almost as if the creators knew that Lecter was the drawing card and wanted to insert a few more scenes of him and Graham. That being said, the film is solid and well worth seeing. The final lines of the film bring this trilogy full circle and start the cycle of Lecter anew, a job well done by all.
4.5 stars out of 5