Red Dragon (2002) — A Manhunter remake

“It makes him God. Would you give that up?”

Andie’s rating: Is it really sick and twisted that I find Anthony Hopkins SO attractive when he’s playing Hannibal Lecter? I thought so.

Andie’s review: I just had to go see this movie opening weekend. I mean, I am a huge fan of Silence of the Lambs and I also really enjoyed Hannibal. I think the character of Dr. Lecter is so fascinating and I love the supporting cast in this movie. Plus I’ve read most of Thomas Harris’ books and they’re always great, so I knew Red Dragon was going to be good. Well. It completely blew all my expectations out of the water. It was even better than I hoped it would be.

Firstly, Anthony Hopkins. Wow. This man is amazing. His Hannibal is the epitome of a sympathetic bad guy because he’s totally evil. He did horrible, outrageous things and yet we love him. We can’t get enough of his scenes. In Hannibal, I was rooting for Dr. Lecter even when he was doing yucky things with Ray Liotta’s head. Anyway, Hopkins does not fail to deliver in Red Dragon. He is just as good as he was in Silence and Hannibal. There’s also an interesting intensity to him because the movie begins with Special Agent Graham catching him and putting him in jail, so he’s freshly captured and clearly pissed off about it. It’s a nice contrast to how almost docile he seems when he is with Agent Starling.

Secondly, the rest of the cast is superb. Superb. I love Ed Norton unconditionally and he gives a great performance. It’s not stand-out and flashy, but its not meant to be. He plays his character with a quiet intelligence and grace and I like that. Ralph Fiennes is amazing as the serial killer Red Dragon. What I like most about him is that I actually like his character. Unlike the serial killer they’re trying to catch in Silence, Fiennes’ Francis Dolarhyde is turned into a monster from years of abuse. He can’t stop the voices in his head and clearly doesn’t want to kill people. The addition of a love interest for him, Reba, played by Emily Watson, was excellent because you can tell that he really likes her and doesn’t want to hurt her. He even tries to stop what he’s doing because of her. It was a nice look into the humanity side of him.

Thirdly, the movie is scary, which is a big reason why I bought the ticket. Right away the movie starts out creepy. The opening credits are white with one word written in blood red. There’s a great scene between Agent Graham and Lecter and then under the rest of the credits we get to see a scrap book detailing the trial and subsequent imprisonment of Dr. Lecter. It’s a great way to tell us a lot of information in a very short amount of time and it’s also really creepy. Anyway, the whole movie bounces back and forth between funny moments and scary moments. Just when you’ve let your guard down, the creepy music starts again and you have to cover your eyes. When Agent Graham goes to the Leeds’ house, I thought I was going to have a heart attack it was so intense. And it builds to a great climax that I really liked a lot.

Finally, what I enjoyed most about both Hannibal and now Red Dragon is this: Silence of the Lambs was clearly the definitive Hannibal Lecter movie. It’s the first and it’s the best. However, it developed such a distinct personality for Dr. Lecter that Hannibal and Red Dragon used that personality to incorporate a lot of humor. It’s wonderful. When I saw this, the movie theater was packed with people who had obviously seen the other Hannibal movies and the knowledge of those let us laugh at a lot of things that really are kind of gruesome.

There is a wonderful scene in the beginning when Dr. Lecter has a symphony board over for dinner and clearly WE know what he’s serving… but they don’t and it’s hilarious. And the fact that Dr. Chilton, who works in the institute where Dr. Lecter is incarcerated, is played again by Anthony Heald is just priceless. I’m so glad they got him back because he provides a plethora of funny moments.

This movie was wonderful, I might go see it again before it leaves the theater. I would really enjoy a night of watching the three Hannibal Lecter movies in chronological order and studying how the character of Dr. Lecter changes. I think the fact that he is the only main character who is always played by the same actor is an interesting commentary on the character itself. I like the idea that he’s the only one who stays the same and I think it’s good that Jodie Foster did not reprise her role as Agent Starling because that would’ve taken away from Dr. Lecter. Anyway, go see Red Dragon. You’ll like it.

Justin’s rating: Big ‘n Tasty

Justin’s review: Man, if you’re not hungry and craving steak by the end of the opening credits, then you’re just not human.

I like and fear Hannibal Lecter as much as I do any other 78-year-old cannibal psychiatrist serial killer (mainly, it’s the psychiatrist part), but when I spend more time counting his wrinkles on screen than counting the beats per minute that my heart has sped up to… perhaps it’s time to retire, yes?

Red Dragon is an exercise in deja vu by anyone who’s seen Manhunter, the first take on Thomas Harris’ novel. Parts of Red Dragon are original and “re-imagined” (as if anyone in Hollywood has an imagination that is not the result of an unholy pact with a lamp genie), and other parts are shot-for-shot the same scenes in Manhunter. The police station briefing room, for example, felt like the exact same place they showcased in Manhunter. Plus, if you’ve seen Manhunter, you know the whole story, you already know all the special twists and there are few (but there are some) deviations.

So why was Red Dragon made? Sure, they might have be trying to erase all memories of art deco from ’80s history books, but this film wasn’t a necessity. Manhunter’s serial killer Francis Dolarhyde nailed his freakish loner antagonist perfectly. The beginning scenes with Will Graham going through the bloody house making notes on his tape recorder are still powerfully effective today as they were back then. Really, unless you’re fooling yourself with the aid of several jolts of electricity, you’ve got to admit that the sole reason Red Dragon came about was (1) Anthony Hopkins’ character’s popularity and (2) dollar signs.

Anthony Hopkins has Hannibal’s fish-eye stare perfected in this third outing, and his silky smooth voice incredibly scary as it is coupled with murder most foul. If anything else, Red Dragon must be seen for the opening sequence which features a never-before-seen confrontation between Hannibal and Graham that ends in Hannibal’s capture. Hannibal’s scenes and profile is considerably beefed up here (and trust me, you’ll be noticing it by the time they have an utterly pointless scene where we watch Hannibal have dinner in his cell, for no other reason than… um… to watch him eat), and it does give us good background on the early days of Lecter up to the beginning of Silence of the Lambs.

All in all, Red Dragon is competent but not exceptional. You can feel the director wanting like a desperate schoolboy auditioning for a role in The Sound of Music to be just like the Oscar-winning Silence, yet it’s a shade too clunky in doing so — which makes you appreciate Silence’s sheer artistry all the more. Where Silence had a creepy underscore, Red Dragon’s got Danny Elfman blaring at you like you’re in the latest Batman flick. Where Silence required you to read into the character’s expressions, Red Dragon’s got a lot of them talking to themselves out loud. So while some of it is scary — most notably seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in his underwear glued to a chair — it’s all very survivable.

Although I was quite amused to hear a lady in our audience scream, and scream loudly, during one scene. Good to know that those vocal chords aren’t going to waste.

Clare’s rating: I love this book. I love all these actors and I love all the characters they play. So why did I really not love this movie?

Clare’s review: Before I recommend (or rather, don’t recommend) Red Dragon as a film I must say that reading the movie’s source material (the novel by Thomas Harris) is by far my favorite way to absorb this story. But I don’t write book reviews. So let’s get on with it already.

I wanted to watch Red Dragon and not compare it at all to Manhunter (the 1986 Michael Mann-directed version of the novel) to see if it held up on its own as a good retelling of the novel’s very cool, very scary, very psychologically complicated story. Unfortunately, by the time the opening credits rolled, I realized that standing at an objective distance and trying to take the movie in without comparison to prior product was impossible.

Here’s the problem. Everything I loved about Manhunter that made it unique and that keeps me going back to it over and over again is missing in Red Dragon. And it’s not that they don’t tell the exact same story. It’s that the characters and the story structure are flat and somewhat meaningless when you hold them up to how the story unfolds and the characters come to life in Manhunter.

I will concede to the following. Yes, Manhunter is dated. And it bears absolutely no visual resemblance to the highly acclaimed film version of Harris’ other novel made into a movie, Silence of the Lambs (because it was made before). And yes, some other dude (Brian Cox) plays Hannibal Lector in the one or two scenes he’s actually needed in Manhunter. And yes, the ending of Manhunter is kind of weirdly filmed and abrupt. However, I don’t think that any of those complaints take away from its overall value as a movie and I really DO think that the complaints I have about Red Dragon sink it almost entirely.

Namely, (and really, isn’t this what you came here for?) what I don’t like about Red Dragon goes like this. I don’t know how useful any of this will be to anyone who hasn’t seen either movie, but hey, I’m off on a tear at this point, so just tie your shoe laces and come along for the ride.

Francis Dollarhyde as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes and as written for Red Dragon the movie is a pale, cardboard cut out, unrealistic, heavily amalgamated, slapdash version of a character mishmashed from all sorts of other movies. The thing I loved about him in the book and the thing I REALLY loved about Tom Noonan’s portrayal of him in Manhunter was that he’s a real person. He’s heavily messed up from years of childhood abuse and he most certainly is unwell (what with the murdering and the God fantasies and the social ineptitude and all), but he’s not CRAZY. But in Red Dragon (the movie), he’s basically boiled down to a tattooed version of Anthony Perkins in Psycho on steroids. He hears voices. He’s delusional. He’s unhinged and deranged and one step short of foaming at the mouth. And to me, that’s a cop out. It’s an unnecessary step into high drama and it takes away from the scariness of the actual character Harris created in the book. The worst and most horrifying thing about Francis Dollarhyde is that he is by all appearances a normal person with a job who may be a little on the shy side but who is by no means koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. In Red Dragon (the movie), the first time we’re introduced to Dollarhyde is this weirdly executed pan through some old beat up nursing home he lives in complete with dramatic flourishes of heavily orchestrated music. We pan all through the house listening to him reliving some traumatic childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his dead grandmother (of whom, of course, there is a towering painting that watches over everything he does). The pan shot ends when we find him upstairs in heavily worn, movie creepy attic lifting weights with a pair of pantyhose over his head. It would have been just as effective if they’d decided to really go for it and introduce him to us wearing a pink tutu, sitting in his own poo and speaking gibberish to his imaginary friends. We get it! That boy be crazy. Thank you for beating me over the head with it.

In Manhunter, you don’t meet Dollarhyde until about half way through the movie. And as I mentioned in my review for Manhunter, that scene still stands out in my mind as one of the most effectively terrifying character introductions I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to take a tour of all the bells and whistles associated with his degradation. You don’t have to take a walk with him down disturbed childhood memory lane. And you don’t have to interpolate his character’s situation by taking cues from the set decoration. In Manhunter, everything you need to know about what kind of person you’re dealing with gets thrown at you all at once like a big bucket of blood and the effect of revealing him to the audience that way is far, far more wonderful and terrible.

This is just one example I can come up with. If you feel like listening to more, feel free to keep reading. If you’ve had enough of my ramblings, feel free to go on back to the main page and pick something else to read. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure movie review.

In addition to the way Dollarhyde is brought to life, I also had serious problems with Edward Norton’s portrayal of Will Graham. And in my mind it’s really bizarre and confusing that I think the dude from CSI did a much better job at portraying the nuances of this character than an actor who I have always admired and think is outstandingly talented. But for my money, Norton’s take on him was too obvious and not detailed enough. Norton’s always done great work when he’s playing characters who are just this side of about to lose it. And clearly this character, a man who chases down serial killers because he’s really good at thinking like they do, is in a lot of ways, just this side of about to lose it. But where Norton decides to play up just how similar he is to these animals he’s after, William Peterson really focused his performance around how much of a burden something like that is to bear on a man who loves his wife and his kid. He made Graham weary and nearly torn down by his own talents. Which made his compulsion to keep doing it and the price he pays for his work that much more compelling and his character that much more interesting. Norton just has a lot of close up shots where he makes his eyes look crazed and mutters to himself while he’s figuring out who done it. I really thought the choice to make Graham anything other than infected by the evil he exposes himself to a weak choice and one that ultimately didn’t bear the weight of the rest of the material.

On top of those two major beefs (and believe me, we could be here all day if I didn’t have other things to do), I have to also say that I thought the soundtrack to Red Dragon, even though I love Danny Elfman, did nothing more for the story than detract from it and make me laugh a couple of times with its head long dives into melodrama. In the scene where Graham walks through the murder victim’s house for the first time to get a feel for what the killer must have done while he was inside, in Red Dragon the music is a very traditional dramatic underscore that blows out into a really over the top cascade when he opens the bedroom door and finds a room covered in blood. In Manhunter, they were smart enough to let the room speak for itself. The soundtrack during that scene was extremely subdued and almost unnoticeable but definitely added an element of suspense and dread to the entire thing. And when Graham opens the bedroom door and finds it covered from floor to ceiling in blood spatter, the audience is left to take in that information as a matter of fact, not as some Hollywood scary movie punchline to an often told, not very funny joke. More times than not, the soundtrack to Red Dragon did a disservice to the story whereas the soundtrack to Manhunter is one of my favorite elements of how the story gets told.

Have I said enough about this? Have I made my case in any way that doesn’t make me appear to be completely anal retentive and obsessive about this? Can I expect to find my inbox filled with hate mail and letters of sincere concern for my mental health for not jumping on the Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter bandwagon? These are but a few questions to ponder over on your way to rent Manhunter.

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