10 years ago to this day, Hannibal Lecter burned himself into our memory, our catchphrases, and our popular culture, and now, he sits at the head of the table once again, packing movie theatres, dominating dinner conversations, and prompting people to try fava beans. With the release of Hannibal, one of the most anticipated films in the past two years, we’re forced to reassess a budding franchise — much like we did with Star Wars: Episode I.
Hannibal is not that refined, deeply charming, and psychological suspenseful yarn we met behind bars in Silence of the Lambs’ Baltimore mental ward, three steps up from Bedlam. It is instead a slasher flick with a slice of culture and a psycho killer with a bit of panache, a shoot-em-up with a little suaveness.
Hannibal begins by stealing the Big Brother surveillance credits from Enemy of the State, then launches into a wonderfully filmed but otherwise dull DEA/FBI/ATF/cops vs. drug dealer shootout stolen from half a dozen sleek action films. It then degenerates into a cat-and-mouse chase (more spying, more sleek assassin-style killings, much less charm) a la Eye of the Beholder. And just as we’re starting to get annoyed with Gary Oldman’s turn as The Man Without a Face (if he were a former victim of our antihero who then became a bitter old prick who found Christ), out come the cannibalistic pigs.
Hannibal is the kind of horror film that’s just a step above ludicrous slasher pic. There’s very little actual psychology to it, a plethora of spooky “jump” moments and violin crescendos, and characters that develop no more than the previous film had already done.
And were it not for the fact that Hannibal does have the few things many slasher stories lack: rustic charm, incredibly stylistic directing, and one of the better orchestral scores I’ve recently heard (Hans Zimmer does a very creepy arrangement on a well-known aria that just makes your skin crawl), it would be the type of movie which would have audiences running for the exits midway through.
What we’re left with is just the kind of film that will bore you for the first hour and either grosses you out or makes you bowl over laughing during the second.
Unlike Silence and Manhunter before it, there’s nothing intelligent about Hannibal. The dark humor is a notch above fart and dick jokes (eg. Starling gets a letter from the Guinness Book of World Records congratulating her on being the female FBI agent who has shot and killed the most people) and Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) has become nothing short of a caricature. Instead of the cold, calculated fellow we met a decade ago, we are given the sort of clumsy serial killer that wouldn’t survive in the real world. Lecter’s evil shifts from a disturbing psychological malignance to a straight-out killer are baffling. The New Lecter doesn’t play any games and doesn’t mess with anyone’s head other than Clarice Starling. He even has the obligatory scene (twice) where he calmly walks away from a murder. Rather than being the menace that once picked his victims with care, Lector acts like he’s simply out to double his record of 14 victims, and he falls just slightly short of his goal.
As far as Clarice goes, Julianne Moore slips into Jodie Foster’s Nikes in a way that may precipitate a Celebrity Deathmatch between the duo, but Moore handles the role well, considering what the book was. Hannibal’s Starling is more battle-hardened, and Moore performs this caricature fairly well. If she only had the West Virginia accent down (she sounds more like a Californian doing an impression of a trailer park girl), we might like her even more. As it is, she simply does a so-so job with a complicated character by playing it to the lowest common denominator (at one point she even wears a very low-cut miniskirt to a meeting with someone who had earlier sexually harassed her).
As far as whether Clarice and Lecter ever hook up, let me say simply that Hannibal is a lot like a bad episode of The X-Files. Plenty of mystery and more than a few open ended questions, leaving us plenty of room for another sequel.
(Also note: stick around for the credits to hear Hannibal’s ta-ta.) Do you hear the bleating of the audience?
Do you hear the bleating of the audience?
Review by James Brundage © 2001 filmcritic.com