Directed By: Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman
Tag line: "Never Forget Who He Is"
Trivia: When Jodie Foster announced she wouldn't return to the role, a number of actresses were considered to play Clarice, including Cate Blanchett and Hilary Swank
The first time I saw Hannibal, Ridley Scott's follow-up to the 1991 award-winning film Silence of the Lambs, my reaction to it could best be described as “lukewarm”. But with each successive viewing, I find myself admiring Hannibal a little more, and now consider it a solid sequel, not to mention a fine film in its own right.
A decade has passed since serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), affectionately known as “The Cannibal” in some circles, escaped from prison, and his whereabouts remain a mystery. Following a botched drug raid, FBI special agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), at the insistence of millionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, playing the only victim to survive an encounter with "The Cannibal"), is re-assigned to the Lecter case, and ordered to do whatever’s necessary to track down her old nemesis. As it turns out, the good doctor has been living in Florence, Italy under the assumed name “Dr. Fell”. While investigating the disappearance of a library curator, Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) of the Florence police force discovers Dr. Fell’s true identity, and, hoping to claim the $3 million dollar reward offered by Verger, attempts to apprehend the elusive killer on his own (a decision he will soon regret). His cover blown, Lecter makes his way back to the States to drop in on his pal, Agent Starling, but will he instead wind up in prison, or, worse still, fall into the hands of Mason Verger, whose thirst for revenge may just give him the advantage over the incredibly sly Lecter.
The key to Hannibal, as it was with Silence of the Lambs, is Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who, even when he's not on-screen, is always the movie’s most interesting character (a good half-hour goes by before Lecter joins the story, yet his presence throughout Hannibal is so strong that he remains a tangible part of every second that preceded his grand entrance). The sequences set in Florence, during which all the facets of Lecter’s unique personality (his sophistication as well as his sadism) are revealed, are, in my opinion, the film’s strongest (An aficionado of the arts, Lecter attends an opera and hosts several historical presentations at the Florence library, moments that are counterbalanced by scenes of incredible violence, such as his killing of a pickpocket, and the grisly manner in which he “ties up the loose ends” in Florence before finally skipping town). Adding to his lore, Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter only targets those he feels are deserving of retribution; as Barney (Frankie Faison), his former guard at the prison, says when questioned by Starling, Lecter “only eats the rude”, making him one of the few homicidal maniacs you both fear and root for at the same time.
My initial issues with Hannibal centered on Clarice Starling, partially because the role had been recast (Moore had the thankless task of following Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1991 original), but also the character herself, as portrayed in the film. The truth is, Moore is utterly fantastic, conveying a fair portion of the down-home innocence that made Starling a fan favorite while, at the same time, playing a more aggressive version of the character. Initially, the decision to “toughen her up” rubbed me the wrong way, but seeing as 10 years have passed between the events depicted in the two movies, it would be silly to assume Starling was the same “new kid” on the force that she was in Silence of the Lambs. Her first run-in with Lecter, followed by years of experience, would have certainly hardened her personality to some degree. She still has her moments of vulnerability; after the unsuccessful (and ultimately blood-drenched) raid to apprehend drug lord Evelda Drumgo (Hazelle Goodman), she breaks down and cries (mostly because a baby was caught in the crossfire, and was in danger of being killed), but aside from scenes like this one, Moore’s Starling is definitely much tougher than she was a decade earlier, and the actress does a phenomenal job portraying her as such.
The most bizarre figure in Hannibal is easily Mason Verger, Lecter’s 4th victim and the only one to survive an encounter with “The Cannibal”. An admitted pedophile, we see, in flashback, how the wealthy Verger (coerced by Lecter) entered a drug-induced state and sliced up his own face with a shard from a broken mirror (a scene that, as you can imagine, is difficult to sit through). Now scarred beyond recognition, Verger has dedicated his life, as well as his life savings, to tracking down Lecter and exacting his revenge. He’s even has specially-trained “attack pigs” brought over from Italy (resulting in another of the film’s many violent scenes). As portrayed by Oldman (unrecognizable behind his “faceless” make-up), Verger is a guy who’s used to getting his own way. Yet as driven as he is, we always feel he’s no match for “The Cannibal”, making their ultimate showdown all the more interesting to watch.
Even now, I don’t think Hannibal is a perfect film: Though played well enough by Ray Liotta, the character of corrupt FBI agent Paul Krendler, Starling’s superior and a guy who wears his sexist attitude on his sleeve, is too cartoonish (that said, his eventual “encounter” with Lecter remains, for me, the movie’s most disturbing sequence). And while it’s not over-emphasized, the “romance” between Lecter and Starling hinted at over the course of the film (especially towards the end) felt unnecessary. In all likelihood, Hannibal will never attain the level of respectability that Silence of the Lambs has, yet I’ve come to believe it’s as good a follow-up as can be expected.
In fact, it may even be a great one.