Much press--and almost as much criticism--has been made about director
Brett Ratner taking on "Red Dragon," the highly-touted remake to 1986's
"Manhunter" and prequel to the Hannibal Lecter trilogy, and it is
obvious why. Until now, Ratner's filmmaking career has cornered only
action comedies (1998's "Rush Hour" and 2001's "Rush Hour 2") and
whimsical dramas (2000's "The Family Man"), making his involvement
on such a dark, challenging project worth questioning. It is something
of a relief, then, that Ratner one-ups the more respected Ridley Scott,
making "Red Dragon" easily superior to 2001's misguided "Hannibal."
Although nowhere near the lofty levels of 1991's "The Silence of the
Lambs," "Red Dragon" retains the mood and most of the artistic craft
of that award-winning shocker.
For anyone who has read the novel by Thomas Harris or seen the previous
"Manhunter" (with Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter), "Red Dragon" should
inspire an indelible sense of déjà vu. Ever sense catching serial
killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and getting wounded in the
process several years earlier, Will Graham (Edward Norton) has been
living a peaceful life in Florida with wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker)
and son Josh (Tyler Patrick Jones). Will is called out of retirement
by former boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to aid in tracking down
a new serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy," who seems to be working
on a lunar cycle and leaves a bite mark on his victims.
In a simultaneous storyline, "The Tooth Fairy" is revealed to be the
introverted Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), a physically daunting
but lonely worker at a color correction facility. When he meets co-worker
Reba (Emily Watson), a pretty, blind woman who hates people taking
pity on her, Dolarhyde is horrified that he may be growing actual
feelings for the person most likely to be his next victim.
More emotionally satisfying and tautly paced, "Red Dragon" rights
some of the pitfalls of "Manhunter," but also contains several of
the same problems. The construction of the story is flawed, moving
back and forth between Will's investigation, Lecter in prison, and
Dolarhyde's doomed romance with Reba. When done well, several major
plots occurring at once can enrich, and add layers to, a film's whole.
However, there are long stretches of "Red Dragon" when certain major
characters disappear to make room for the screen time of others. The
result is mildly, but not disastrously, uneven. Will Graham is the
weakest of the principals, if only because he is the lead character,
yet lacks development or dynamism. In other words, he is most definitely
not as interesting as Clarice Starling.
What director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally get right is
a weighty sense of foreboding that hangs over the ensemble, particularly
in the unlikely love story that culminates between the insane Dolarhyde
and the blind Reba, who for all her worldliness is unable to see the
monster she is slowly falling in love with. The brooding cinematography
by Tak Fujimoto (who uncoincidentally also did "Manhunter") and chilling
music score by Danny Elfman (2002's "Spider-Man") assist in the superbly
realized atmosphere of the piece.
"Red Dragon" has been blessed with one of the most star-studded casts
of the year, although not everyone is given equal chance in doing
much with their roles. Most successful are Ralph Fiennes (1999's "Sunshine"),
creating an unforgettable villain in Francis Dolarhyde, and Emily
Watson (2001's "Gosford Park"), poignantly real as Reba. Watson is
the much-needed heart and soul of the film, projecting both hope and
honest cynicism to a part that is significantly more realized than
it was when Joan Allen played it in "Manhunter." As snotty-nosed tabloid
journalist Freddy Lounds, Philip Seymour Hoffman (2000's "Almost Famous")
turns in another swell supporting turn.
On the flip side, Edward Norton (2002's "Death to Smoochy") suffers
from a blandness that his Will Graham never escapes. Norton isn't
bad by any stretch of the imagination--he's quite good, actually--but
his part is not magnetic enough to win us over. Meanwhile, Mary-Louise
Parker (1999's "The Five Senses"), as Will's wife, Molly, and Harvey
Keitel (2000's "Little Nicky"), as Jack Crawford, are sorely wasted.
No review of "Red Dragon" would be complete without mention of the
star attraction, and Anthony Hopkins (2002's "Bad Company") does not
disappoint as the calmly psychotic Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins, whose
deliberate turn in "Hannibal" came off as too jokey a parody of the
role he so scarily inhabited in "The Silence of the Lambs," is more
on-target here. Lecter does not spin off a round of one-liners, and
Hopkins smartly decides to reprise the intensity and cold charm that
he originated the role with eleven years ago.
"Red Dragon" inevitably lacks the novelty of "The Silence of the Lambs"
and, thus, is a weaker overall effort, but director Brett Ratner has
worked a miracle in at least recapturing a similar tone. Save for
a tacked-on, unconvincing climax, "Red Dragon" engages for the duration
of its 125-minute running time. Best of all, it includes a masterful
stroke in its very last scene that satisfyingly wraps the Hannibal
Lecter trilogy up, creating a whole that is, ultimately, far greater
than some of its parts.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman