Last week I was seriously under the weather, dealing with some “minor” pneumonia. Essentially, all I could do for a week was making ghastly coughing noises, sleep and lay on the couch watching television series and movies. The latter part wasn’t so bad, mind you, as I was able to catch up on Hannibal, the Bryan Fuller created NBC series that I now think is one of the best of the last few years. Feeling inspired, I then decided to watch what is arguably my favourite of the four Hannibal Lecter films to hit theatres – the under appreciated Red Dragon.
In Red Dragon, a serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes) is killing families based on the moon cycle, and retired FBI profiler Will Graham is asked to come back to try and catch him. Graham winds up consulting with Hannibal Lecter on the case, the man who tried to kill him.
While Silence of the Lambs may have scored Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster Oscars, I always find myself going back to Red Dragon as a my pick for the quintessential Lecter film. I love the idea of audiences having the opportunity to see the man get caught by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), which happens in the first few minutes of the film. In Silence of the Lambs and later Hannibal, we’re watching a Hannibal either already imprisoned (but about to break out) or living the high life in Italy. If he’s so brilliant, how would someone manage to capture him in the first place. In Red Dragon, it’s clear that it’s luck more than anything else. Unlike in the two previous films, Lecter is pure villain here, not anti-hero, and as always, Hopkins delivers.
While Hannibal the tv series’ Hugh Dancy may be the definitive Will Graham, Edward Norton is very solid in the role, playing a settled, slightly weary but still determined version of the character. He and Anthony Hopkins work beautifully off one another during their scenes together (some either expanded or created by screenwriter Ted Tally to give Lecter more presence than he has in Thomas Harris’ original novel). As The Tooth Fairy, Ralph Fiennes also does very strong work – there are moments where you sympathize with this brutal killer, and Fiennes finds the soul behind the monster.
Red Dragon was directed by Brett Ratner, who at the time was best known for the Rush Hour films and wasn’t (nor is today) particularly well regarded by critics and audiences (most despise his X-Men: The Last Stand). He does a more than capable job with Red Dragon, though – the film moves quickly, has great performances and moments of suspense. You can’t ask for much more than that.
While a case can be made for the new tv series as the definitive statement on Thomas Harris’ world of Hannibal (I’m going to try and find some time to make it), ten years after its release, Red Dragon still holds up as an entertaining film, and as it stands, Anthony Hopkins final performance as Hannibal Lecter.
Now pass me some fava beans, won’t you?