Red Dragon Movie Review

Red Dragon has just about everything going against it.

It's the third movie in a series that won an insane number of Oscars (The Silence of the Lambs) and was promptly followed by one of the worst films in recent memory (Hannibal). It's a prequel... and its big star (Anthony Hopkins) is about 20 years too old. And it's a remake of a minor cult classic (Manhunter), a fantastic film which will invariably stomp the crap out of Red Dragon in the history books.

Oh, and even if they haven't seen Manhunter, pretty much everyone is expecting this movie to be pure crap.

Expect a lot of negative reviews from snobs and purists, but don't buy 'em. Red Dragon may not be high art (and it doesn't have Manhunter's killer "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" moment, either) but it's got a good amount of thrills fueled by some impressive performances.

For the uninitiated, Red Dragon (based on the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series), opens with a still-undiscovered psychiatrist/freelance criminal profiler/cannibal Lecter (Hopkins) serving up a poor flautist as a gourmet dinner for his unwitting symphony friends. Soon thereafter, he's busted for the crime by his protégé, Will Graham (Edward Norton), but only after both are nearly killed by one another in the process.

Years later, the retired Graham is called in to work on a new murder case by pal Jack (Harvey Keitel), who's investigating a killer branded "The Tooth Fairy" due to the jagged bite marks he leaves on his victims. The Tooth Fairy (and this isn't spoiling much) turns out to be a mild-mannered freak named Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes, often totally naked) with a God complex. And of course, much like in Silence, Graham is forced to seek aid in the superior mind of his now-imprisoned former mentor... who just about killed him with a knife to the belly years earlier.

A panoply of supporting players round out the story, most memorably being Philip Seymour Hoffman (as usual), playing a slimy tabloid reporter. Even Emily Watson, who normally plays characters through some method of acting that requires she always look as if she's lost in the mall, is impressive as Dolarhyde's blind girlfriend Reba.

It's the personal connections between Lecter and Graham and between Dolarhyde and Reba that elevate this material above most modern-day killer-thrillers. It isn't as deep as Silence, but the effort is appreciated. After all, can you remember the difference between The Bone Collector and Kiss the Girls? Can you remember them at all?

The absolute last director I would have thought of to pull together such an ambitious project is Brett Ratner, the pap-tastic helmer of Rush Hours 1, 2, and soon 3. Surprisingly, Ratner proves he has more in him than schticky kung fu comedies, taking an understated approach when required and blowing out the gore from time to time. (Okay, a lot of the time.)

It's too bad that the last act really starts to crumble, resorting once again to the tired showdown (complete with innocent hostage) between the cop and the villain. It also contributes to a 130-minute running time that feels even longer.

With its flaws and despite a spat breaking out in the back rows and a reel during which the soundtrack was off by a fraction of the second (sending the audience tittering at the appearance of a bad dub job), I enjoyed Red Dragon enough to recommend it. Hopkins may be way too old to play a younger version of himself (whatever happened to those digital effects that were supposed to de-age him?), but he steals the show once again. Norton's work is serviceable, and Fiennes makes an even better villain than Silence's Buffalo Bill (though sadly he has no quote-worthy line a la "It puts the lotion on!").

Whatever you think about Red Dragon's predictability or comparison to Manhunter, you'll have to give it one thing. I can say categorically that it has successfully made me paranoid about the quality of the doors and locks in my house.

The two-disc DVD of Red Dragon includes one of the most thorough behind-the-scenes featurettes (about 40 minutes long) that I've seen for a movie that wasn't of historical significance. In addition, there are tons of effects and makeup vignettes, screen tests, deleted/alternate/extended scenes, and other errata. Lastly, two commentary tracks (one from Ratner, one from composer Danny Elfman) can be accessed. Of final note: It should be mentioned that this could be the loudest DVD I've ever viewed. Crazy.

Pull on his chain and he bites off your ear while singing opera.


Red Dragon Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2002


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