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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hannibal

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore
Director: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: February 2001
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Diane Baker, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Ivano Marescotti, Boyd Kestner

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

You probably think of yourself as a good person. If you read movie reviews, I'm sure you are. When you're not helping elderly ladies across the street, you're wiping the tears from the face of your son or daughter who has just lost the Little League championship by fumbling the ball. On another track, what's the worst thing you've ever done? You once threw a spitball at the irritating kid who compulsively raised his hand in class like Tracy Flick? You had fantasies of drowning your girl friend for dumping you? You plotted to kill your teacher for giving you a C- on your latest film review? Now then, how do you reconcile your goody-two-shoes side with your darker impulses? You say you're a human being, a complex individual part angel and part devil? I think you're on the money here and so does Thomas Harris, who in the latest of his trio of novels recreates a brilliant scholar who happens to like liver. Ridley Scott's "Hannibal," which peppers Harris's book with the sharp dialogue of David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, brings to life the epitome of homo sapien, whose title character represents at once the best and the worst of humankind.

You won't be at all disappointed if you go to "Hannibal" expecting a quintessential psychological thriller rather than a gross-out, adolescent, intestine-eating extravaganza. Ridley Scott, whose "Gladiator" was bloody enough but who carefully edited out the kind of gore that so many teens like to see, does an effective job this time around in presenting a few scenes of potentially stomach-turning butchery into cleverly edited scattershots. The most talked-about sight, the penultimate scene which is the only one displaying the title character as a man-eater, is viewed in a straightforward take-- an effective set of visuals not found in Thomas Harris's book.

If Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) is one of the great fictional monsters of the century as Stephen King believes he is, then he has a worthy antagonist this time around in the fabulously wealthy Mason Verger (played by an uncredited Gary Oldman whose makeup artist may have taken a hint from Willem Dafoe's getup as Max Schreck in E. Elias Merhige's "Shadow of the Vampire"). One eye shut, face horrendously contorted by a date that Verger had with a piece of glass in Jonathan Demme's breathtakingly intense "The Silence of the Lambs," Verger motivates the story by his desire for vengeance against the man he invited to his home for some consensual s&m only to be influenced by Hannibal to peel off his own face while under the influence of the hypnotic drug slipped to him by the brilliant doctor. Verger's plan is to have Hannibal kidnapped by a trio of thugs, brought back to his Virginia manor (filmed at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina), and slowly eaten feet first by a pack of wild boars brought over from Sardinia. His scheme is opposed by two others who hope to bag the brainy psychotic: a Florentine cop named Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) who hopes to bag a three million dollar award for information leading to Hannibal's arrest; and FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), intent on saving him from the sadistic Verger and sending him back to a hospital for the criminally insane.

Sophisticated film buffs will, I think, most appreciate the scenes filmed in Italy, wherein Hannibal wows a group of academics while posing as a Dr. Fell, by discoursing on the writings of Dante Alighieri while illustrating his talk with slides and lecturing in Italian and English. An important segment of Thomas Harris's novel unfortunately couldn't make it to the filmed version--that which observes Hannibal as epicure and oenephile as he partakes of $1,000 bottles of wine that would be the envy of Patrick Bateman. Though conventional movie themes appear in Ridley Scott's work--particularly the demonizing of high-level bureaucrats in the FBI in the person of Justice Department big shot Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta)--Scott's regular cinematographer John Mathieson pulls out the artsy stops in his gorgeous capturing of historic Florence while Hans Zimmer's score adds the ambiance of doom and treachery to the proceedings.

No expense seems spared, as the audience is made privy to the dazzling sights not only of North Carolina's Biltmore Estate but also of James Madison's pad in Montpelier, Virginia in a film whose product placements will encourage audience members not only to visit Florence but to stop by Dean and DeLuca for some takeout to make the eight-hour flight more pleasant. While the sixty-three year old Anthony Hopkins reaffirms his stature as one of our supreme actors, whether playing the repressed and naive servant in "Remains of the Day" the persuasive title character of "Nixon," or the man least admired by the worldwide vegetarian movement, Hopkins is more than adequately backed up by a stellar performance from Julianne Moore as a complex, self- assured individual envied and hated by her colleagues in the Justice Department. "Hannibal" is a treat for the eyes and ears and, for some, its all too human flavor.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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