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Red Dragon

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Red Dragon

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton
Director: Brett Ratner
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense, Horror

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Criminals don't think like you and me. According to criminologist Stanton Samenow, lawbreakers do not dismiss rules or morality outright except when the codes interfere with what they want. If a criminal wants something, he takes it, without regard for its rightful owner and no matter what the consequences are. Criminals are selfish, impulsive and undisciplined. Since law enforcement officers other than the few rotten apples are generally not "selfish, impulsive and undisciplined," they cannot imagine what goes on in the minds of those who are. Just as we use former or even present drug addicts to counsel those who are still on the stuff, we ought to use criminals reformed or otherwise to tell us what goes on in the gray matter of killer still at large.

This concept motivates the story of "Red Dragon," whose names comes from the animal described in the Book of Revelations, a beast that has taken possession of a serial killer's mind and compels him even against his will to commit heinous crimes which, having been done, give the killer a feeling of being transformed to a level above that of mere mortals. How to track this loony tunes down? Use a criminal to catch one.

Since many movie buffs have seen the Oscar-winning "The Silence of the Lambs," and more recently "Hannibal," we know what will happen beyond the conclusion of Brett Ratner's new film, scripted by Ted Tally: the scares and red herrings pop up from time to time, but we are by now accustomed by the multitude of horror flicks to their appearance. To borrow a phrase from Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), we've seen them "oodles of times." Even more frequently we've witnessed the hackneyed finales of thrillers: the bad guy either talks too much before he shoots, or he successfully fires away at the hero who doesn't die straight away ("Road to Perdition") but survives at least long enough to finish off the villain. What we look for in "Red Dragon," then, is interesting characterizations and witty dialogue. We get them but not quite enough.

The wit comes one hundred percent from the mouth of Hannibal himself, as expected, the high point being at the very beginning of the tale when, after a symphonic concert, the rich and pretentious dine at the home of psychiatrist Dr. Lecter, who implies that a discussion of a missing violinist has become food for thought. If only there were more scenes like that one. When FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) meets Hannibal to pick his brain (so to speak) about a serial killer who slices his victims up with the broken glass from mirrors and eats his victims' organs, Will and Hannibal have an altercation, ultimately landing Hannibal in the Baltimore hospital for the criminally insane with five consecutive life sentences and more security than Houdini could break. As Will gets deeper into the case of the serial killer at large despite the opposition of his wife (Mary-Louise Parker), he meets with his enemy, Hannibal, for consultations which take place under the most unusual conditions for interviews. Brett Ratner's canny direction evokes the conflicting feelings the two have for each other; mutual hatred is there, of course, but at the same time we note the intellectual attraction these two clever people feel for each other, the respect each has for the other's knowledge.

Though Ted Tally's screenplay gives us more Hannibal than the Thomas Harris novel on which it's based, we wish Anthony Hopkins could have chewed up even more scenery (again: so to speak). Each time Hopkins appears on the screen, we feel a chill and at the same time enjoy the sort of repartee that gives his Dr. Lecter the feeling of superiority to other mortals. Still, there is a fine portrayal of the killer, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), an introvert who had been abused repeatedly as a child, a victim of incest and of vicious maligning by his grandmother who regularly threatens to "cut it off." (Audiences will wonder whether Anthony Perkins could have made even more of the role.) Scarcely the Charles Manson-sort of raving monster, Dolarhyde is repressed, unable to express himself except under a full moon when he is possessed by the Red Dragon the subject of a painting by the British poet, William Blake, who fascinates the killer. We don't wonder that Reba McClane (Emily Watson), would fall for the guy and how, likewise, Dolarhyde would be so taken by this kind and tender blind woman that he would be plunged into serious conflict with his homicidal tendencies.

While Harvey Keitel has a generic role as FBI Agent Jack Crawford and Philip Seymour Hoffman as tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds plays his signature role as a cad, Edward Norton stands out in the principal part of the guy who simply had to come out of his retirement in a small Florida town to meet his nemesis yet again in order to track down the insane murderer. Unlike the horror pics featuring teens who wink at the audience, "Red Dragon" is the real thing, a mature, witty, serious look at the world of criminal psychopathology which, given its attraction for an adult audience could have used a wittier script.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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