Hannibal Movie Review
The "Silence of the Lambs" sequel is finally here, and while it is certainly unsettling and appropriately ghastly (don't take a date to dinner before or after!), the film is more about the showmanship of director Ridley Scott than it is about the odious appetite of Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter.
Punctuated with some amped-up action scenes (like an early FBI shootout) and camera work that blurs and shakes like a music video almost every time Dr. Lecter has his ravenous way with one of his victims, "Hannibal" seems to lose sight of its high-IQ, psychological terror foundation whenever something hair-raising happens.
But unruffled through it all is the inimitable Anthony Hopkins, reprising with relish his chillingly calm, urbane and playfully intellectual, lip-licking portrayal of the cinema's most endearing icon of upscale fright flicks. Hopkins sashays through the picture like a cat on the prowl -- even though he's the one being hunted this time -- his eyes full of composed calculation and his mouth cleaved just enough to see his tongue running absent-mindedly over his teeth as he contemplates tasting the flesh of just about every person he encounters. (A kiss on the hand has never been creepier.)
"Hannibal" takes place several years after "Silence of the Lambs," and Lecter has been in hibernation while his psychological foil, agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore taking over the role from Jodie Foster), has become a liability to the FBI after a controversial shooting incident.
Idled by the Bureau, her thoughts turn to Lecter, whose one surviving victim contacts her with evidence he's gathered regarding the possible whereabouts of the heinous Hannibal.
A horribly disfigured and terribly disturbed billionaire (played by Gary Oldman with a goose-pimpling wickedness that matches Hopkins'), he has the means and motivation to pursue Lecter for his own obsessive purposes -- namely a vengeful desire to see his tormentor literally eaten alive.
His standing $3 million reward for information leading to his private capture of Lecter spurs the interest of an Italian police inspector (Giancarlo Giannini), who has discovered Hannibal living incognito in Florence. His avarice is, of course, his undoing, and he meets a rather gothic fate.
Realizing Lecter's own obsession with Clarice could be useful, the billionaire then bribes a Justice Department official (Ray Liotta) to help him play her as bait. When Dr. Lecter bites, returning to the United States, a three-way game of cat-and-mouse begins. In one of the film's best scenes Lecter calls Starling's cell phone and toys with at her mind while she tries to track him through a crowded public square by following the background noises coming through the line.
But just as Lecter takes something of a back seat to Scott's slick, very Hollywood style, Starling's character gets even more short-changed. The gifted Moore was a savvy choice to take the role after Foster passed, but Clarice is more of a plot device than a personality in this film. The rogue FBI agent bent the picture takes in the last half is a cliché, and little time is spent plumbing the character's psyche and vulnerabilities like "Silence" did.
This isn't to say that "Hannibal" is a failure by any means. Scott has created a potent collage of nightmarish moments that will make even those with an iron constitution squirm in their seats. But he hasn't the artistic subtlety of "Silence" director Jonathan Demme. As a result this film misfires at some key moments -- like the climactic dinner scene, which is so extreme it belongs in the kind of serio-comic horror movie that frequently has the word "Chainsaw" in the title.
"Hannibal" has atmosphere, intellectualism and an impressive pedigree, but doesn't delve into its characters enough to do justice to its predecessor. Ultimately it's just another Hollywood sequel.