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The W - Random - OldSchool's Red Dragon Review (Slight Spoilers)
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Since: 2.1.02
From: nWo Country

Since last post: 3322 days
Last activity: 3256 days
#1 Posted on
I've gotta get some practice in for this, and I figured there's no better place to do it. So read, hopefully enjoy, and feedback is greatly appreciated.

OldSchool’s Red Dragon Review

Red Dragon
Cert: R
Director: Brett Ratner.
Length: 124mins.
Cast: Ed Norton (Will Graham); Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter); Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde); Harvey Keitel (Jack Crawford); Emily Watson (Reba McClane); Mary Louise Parker (Molly Graham); Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Freddie Lounds); Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton).

Plot In A Nutshell: The year is 1980, and world-weary FBI profiler Will Graham is doggedly trying to nail the Butcher Of Baltimore, a serial killer that has claimed nine victims and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. After a rather nasty encounter with noted psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter-involving a harpy knife and a flutist’s sweetbreads-Graham nails his man, winding up in intensive care for his troubles. Flash forward seven years; Graham is happily retired, soaking up the Florida sun with wife Molly and son Josh, when old colleague Jack Crawford shows up and drops a gruesome new file in his lap. Graham agrees to return to the Bureau to aid the capture of lunar cycle killer “The Tooth Fairy”, but he’s going to need some help from the now-incarcerated Lecter to crack the case...

Analysis: Two years after the arch camp stylings of Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, we return to more familiar territory; a simmering Hannibal spitting venom from behind the perspex. But is Red Dragon simply a watered-down rehash of Lambs? Or is it the gloriously vicious return to form that Hannibal could never be? Read on...

Of course the core of any psychological thriller is going to be the performances, and Red Dragon’s cast reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s hot list. However, superb actors do not a masterpiece make, a lesson painfully learnt by audiences world-wide upon the release of The Godfather Part III. How do the performers fare here, faced with material already portrayed so well in Michael Mann’s 1987 adaptation, the chillingly clinical Manhunter?

First, the leads. Dispelling any memories of Hannibal’s Carry On one-liners, Hopkins returns to the roots of Lecter’s character, emoting little and delivering his lines with a measured venom that merges well with the Doctor’s natural charm. Making no attempt to appear younger (thankfully), his blink-free stare and casual-yet-rigid posture, coupled with the standard issue prison uniform, returns Lecter to that iconic status created in Lambs. His charged exchanges with Graham would be on a par with those involving Clarice Starling, were it not for faults I will later address, and Hopkins makes very few concessions to the camp nature of his material (one notable exception being the mouthed “thank you” to a terrified waiter during a three-course dinner “reward” for his services). Don’t listen to the critics that claim Lecter is now no more than self-parody; if they as viewers cannot watch a performance without placing it on a pedestal then they shouldn’t be reviewing movies for a living. Hopkins has slipped back into Lecter’s skin as comfortably as an old sock; you won’t even notice his (considerable)gut.

Norton, on the other hand, falls flat when depicting troubled FBI agent Will Graham. Taking the sparkle out of his tense tete-a-tetes with Lecter, Norton fails to properly internalise his emotions, instead looking vaguely troubled as Hopkins acts his socks off. When we should be seeing Graham’s torment at facing the man who damn near killed him, instead he simply looks slightly peeved. Of course, understatement can be useful when acting as a foil to a character such as Lecter, but Norton withdraws just a smidge to much, making it impossible to truly empathise with his character’s situation. That is not to say the performance is bad; rather simply adequate. Unfortunately, “adequate” just doesn’t measure up when sitting opposite Anthony Hopkins, and Norton sucks the sympathy from his wiry hero.

The supporting cast acquits itself well to the material, for the most part; Keitel sleepwalks through a paint-by-numbers role that almost seems tailored for rent-a-mentor Morgan Freeman, whilst Parker is really nothing more than a two-dimensional representation of Graham’s threatened home life. Fiennes, crucial in the role of troubled killer Francis “Tooth Fairy” Dolarhyde, almost succeeds in garnering our sympathy. Sadly his creepy delivery eliminates him from being touching, whilst the empathic leanings of the script prevent him from achieving true scariness. Instead he is left hovering somewhere in between, not quite anti-hero, not quite pants-wetting psycho, simply just confused weirdo. Like Norton, he is adequate, and like Norton, that just isn’t quite good enough considering the company.

Where the supporting cast DOES pick up, however, is in the performances of Watson and Hoffman. As Dolarhydes’ blind love interest, Watson is both courageous and vulnerable, trampy and classy. She is totally believable in conveying her handicap, and the oddball romance between herself and Dolarhyde is genuinely moving. And Hoffman makes hay with the role of sleazy tabloid hack Freddie Lounds, deadpanning through his asshole of a character and loving every (admittedly sparse) minute of it. His scene with Fiennes is made scary only by his snivelling terror at being faced with death, and his subsequent demise is a truly awesome moment of thriller cinema. An Academy nomination should be forthcoming; if Judi Dench can win it for her glorified cameo in Shakespeare In Love, then this is a shoe-in. And Heald is good value, reprising his role from Lambs as snivelling asylum chief Dr. Chilton.

The direction, like many aspects of the film, is simply average rather than outstanding. Although he does not disgrace himself, Ratner borrows many beats from Demme but doesn’t really add anything new, and only shows genuine flair for the material during the climactic sequence and Graham’s harrowing skull sessions with Lecter. The rest of the film glides amiably by, not really thrilling but gripping sporadically. Silence scribe Ted Tally, meanwhile, has turned in another cracker of a script, doing a fine job of expanding Lecter’s role and adding extra oomph at required points, such as Graham’s final showdown with Dolarhyde. The opening sequence, detailing Lecter’s capture at the hands of Graham, is another welcome addition to the story, although the sight of a ponytailed Hannibal may alarm some. The film does begin to drag after the first forty minutes, but picks up long before a thrilling finale. And the closing scene will surely bring a smile to the face of any sceptical Lambs fan.

Final Thought: Below Silence on the pecking order, vastly superior to Hannibal, and on a par with Manhunter, Red Dragon is raised above average by some sublime performances and deft dialogue. See it, and rather than crucify it for not measuring up to it’s origins, enjoy it for what it is-an enjoyable, finely crafted psychological thriller.

Rating: ***½

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Since: 18.2.02
From: Laurel, MD, USA

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#2 Posted on
Hopkins looked too old. Apparently they were considering casting Jude Law as Lecter, which would have RULED. Also, this didn't work well with the fact that Ed Norton looks too young. it's just his face. Lecter and Graham were supposed to be about the same age, and that didn't come across at all.

And for being set in the early 80's, you sure couldn't tell from the sets or costumes at all. Which is a minor gripe, in comparison.

And when did Hoffman turn into Joe Don Baker? It was creepy!


"Nothing remains interesting where anything may happen." -H.G. Wells
"Show me the country in which there are no strikes and I'll show you that country in which there is no liberty." -Emma Goldman


Since: 2.1.02
From: nWo Country

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#3 Posted on
True, Hoffman does look like the Immortal Don. But I thought Hopkins making no attempt to "de-age" worked well. And although physically they're about the same age, the relationship played in the novel is a very uneven one-Lecter is always the "older, wiser" one. Fiennes was actually the considered replacement for Lecter, who probably could've done good things with him, but hey, he ain't Tony.

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Since: 10.4.02
From: New York City, NY

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#4 Posted on
Excellent review. I plan on seeing it this week, so I dusted of my copy of Manhunter to refresh my memory (a long time favorite that I hadn't seen in 5 years or so). As I remembered, the combination of Michael Mann and William Peterson was electrifying and the supporting cast was first rate (Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen). The signature Mann-stylized look of the film still captivates the eye and ear (cinematography, locations, music, etc.).

Old School, do you look at these two films as separate entities graded individually or do you find yourself making comparisons?

I thought Hannibal was utterly awful, but look forward to seeing Red Dragon.

"Well, you can't involve friendship with business. It has to be one or the other. It's either business or friendship, or hit the bricks!"
--Life Lessons from "The Tao of Bobby the Brain Heenan" Uncensored 2000 preview


Since: 2.1.02
From: nWo Country

Since last post: 3322 days
Last activity: 3256 days
#5 Posted on
Thanks for the praise. I think to compare the two would be unfair; Manhunter is an excellently crafted 80s-style thriller, but one which doesn't seem to have a particular interest in Thomas Harris' original ideas. Red Dragon is entirely different animal, a sort of sub-SOTL. I wouldn't hold Manhunter and Lambs up for comparison, therefore neither would I subject Red Dragon to it. Look at it this way: would you compare Rex Harrison's Dr. Doolittle to Eddie Murphy's Dr. Doolittle? Both are from the same basic idea, but both take it in wildly different directions. The same principle applies here.

(edited by oldschoolhero on 14.10.02 1051)

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