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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 John Beachem
2 stars out of 4

It's been some time since Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) escaped from prison and FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster then, Julianne Moore now) made a name for herself by catching a dangerous psychopath. Now Agent Starling is under attack from the FBI and from the media because she shot a drug dealer who was carrying a child. Leading the attack is Justice Agent Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta). Meanwhile, Lecter is living the good life in Italy, but he's drawn the attention of local law enforcement officer Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), who plans on turning Lecter in to the FBI for the two hundred thousand dollar reward. Also working against our wayward cannibal is billionaire Mason Verger; a crippled, hateful man whose face Dr. Lecter convinced him to remove some years back. Verger is helping Agent Starling determine Lecter's whereabouts in an effort to bring him into his own clutches to exact revenge. Despite the multitude of enemies working against him, Lecter holds all the cards and seems unstoppable. In fact, his only weakness might be a growing affection for Clarice, which might lead him right into her hands.

I've made it clear on several occasions that I don't think The Silence of the Lambs is all it's cracked up to be. That said, I walked into Ridley Scott's (Gladiator) film with certain preconceived notions about what I'd think of it. Now, I don't care what other critics tell you about being able to walk into a movie without any bias one way or the other. The moment you see a preview, or read one review, or even read the cast list, you form an opinion about the movie. It might be an unconscious decision, but it's human nature to form impressions about something before we've experienced it. Alright, enough with the shallow philosophical musings, and on to why I don't think Hannibal was much of a film. What surprised me about halfway through the proceedings was the absence of any real suspense. It became quite obvious what was going to happen to each character who appeared on screen, so when that character found himself in a desperate situation, the tension was killed. Of course, that wasn't the only thing that set the film back, but it's one of the larger problems to be found.

I might not have cared for The Silence of the Lambs, but it was hard to deny that the acting was superb. Anthony Hopkins went a long way in defining creepy in terms of movie serial killers; and Jodie Foster was an outstanding choice for a young, naive FBI agent. Things are a little different this time around. Hopkins is still fun to watch as Lecter, and it's obvious he's having a good time, but the character's menace is gone. In its place we get a few chuckles (pitch black though the humor may be), one or two startles, and a touch of gore. As for Julianne Moore, marvelous in some endeavors (The Big Lebowski), useless in others (Magnolia, not that that's her fault), she falls somewhere in the middle this time around. This isn't exactly her fault for two reasons: one, the character of Clarice Starling is woefully underwritten this time around (strange, since she was somehow overwritten last time); two, Julianne Moore may be a fairly talented actress, but she's no Jodie Foster, and comparisons, unfair or not, are going to be drawn. The only other actors with any screen time are the excellent Giancarlo Giannini (A Walk in the Clouds), who leaves quite an impression with a small role; and the sleepwalking Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), who is given a hideous role, and it's obvious he knows it. Tempted as I am to tell you who the actor playing Mason Verger is, I won't since his name isn't mentioned in the credits. Let's just say this actor does an outstanding job, as always.

What is it that made The Silence of the Lambs work for so many people? Since I'm not a member of that group I can only venture a guess, but I'm willing to bet a lot of the film's appeal is due to the interaction between Lecter and Starling. People would sit there, fascinated at this game of cat and mouse; watching the brilliant Lecter at first toy with Starling from behind his glass prison, and then slowly begin to regard her as an equal. Obviously, I didn't find any of this too fascinating, but I can understand why many people did. These same people will probably be disappointed to find that this interaction between Lecter and Starling is absent from Hannibal. In fact, the two don't speak to each other till about halfway through the film. Otherwise the focus of the film is generally split between the vaguely interesting story of Pazzi's attempts to capture Lecter, and the exceedingly uninteresting story of Starling being hung out to dry by her colleagues. Unfortunately, the film's trailers pretty well give away what will happen in Pazzi's story, and Starling's story contains nothing even resembling tension. I wish I could say things improved once Starling and Lecter meet up, but their game of cat and mouse has been turned into a cutesy (if moderately disturbing) string of flirtations.

With a director like Ridley Scott behind the wheel, some things are bound to work. The shots of Italy and the cinematography in general by John Mathieson (Gladiator) are quite nice. Despite what you may have heard about this being the goriest film of all time, Scott shows remarkable restraint with the gore, and I can only think of three scenes which might really disturb audiences. Otherwise Scott wisely chooses to shoot what could be the goriest scenes in a hazy, obscured way so as not to turn too many stomachs. On the whole, Scott's direction is efficient and suitable to the film. He only gives in to Oliver Stone syndrome once or twice, jumping suddenly to slow motion, fast motion, or something similarly juvenile. He also makes excellent use of yet another brilliant score by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, noticing a trend here?). Zimmer's score is low and remarkably creepy, perfectly highlighting the film's darkened mood. Hannibal runs a touch too long at 131 minutes. I'd recommend anyone who enjoyed the first film, and doesn't mind some stomach turning gore, see the film. Just don't go in with your expectations too high. I give the movie three out of five stars.

Copyright 2001 John Beachem

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