Hannibal (2001)Rated R for stong gruesome violence, some nudity and language.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Francesca Neri, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta.
Photo ©MGM. All rights reserved.
Hannibal on the B-rain
In the preface of my favorite book, the author talks about a syndrome wherein a storyteller falls somewhat more in love with his villain than with his hero. The details of the life and characteristics of the bad guy are told with special care and enthusiasm. This certainly seems to apply in the case of the storyteller and the character Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal, the awaited sequel to Silence of the Lambs. At least it was certain that the most memorable character from Lambs was Dr. Lecter, and indeed he is the main recurring character in Thomas Harris' novels. However, an amusing ride with the doctor is all you really get out of Hannibal, and really not much else. If you aren't fond of the character in some way or another, then there's little reason to see this movie.
After an opening scene, the story effectively begins with the only other returning character from Lambs, Clarice Starling, heroine of the original movie, here portrayed by Julianne Moore in place of Jodie Foster from the first movie. She's leading an FBI team to capture a nototrious criminal, but circumstances make a mess of the operation, and she is publicly disgraced. This gets the attention of one Mason Verger (played by a famous actor only credited in the end credits), a deformed former victim of Dr. Lecter's, and the only victim to have survived a vicious encounter with the doctor. It seems that Verger, a wealthy and resourceful, yet slightly deranged, man, has longed for revenge on Dr. Lecter, and he figures that, in some way, Clarice is the key to successfully tracking him down. He makes contact with the FBI with information about Dr. Lecter, and before long FBI honcho Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) has sent Clarice on Lecter's trail once again.
Meanwhile, we do catch up with Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) himself, hiding out in Florence under a false name. He has been providing some information, as part of an investigation, to an Italian detective named Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini). He's also close to landing a curator position at a museum there. Things seem to be quite smooth for Hannibal until Pazzi, quite by chance, realizes who his friendly informant might really be: a fugitive with a huge reward on his head. This sets the wheels in motion for the plan for his capture.
And it's all rather involving for a while, but then the movie gets less and less involving, and then, finally, it seems to wind down in a rather comedic letdown. For all the plot details there seem to be in the beginning stages of the movie, barely any of it seems to figure in or matter when its final act comes around. Clarice's role is still integral, but the initiatives of her actions are dulled in comparison to the real character in charge of the events, which is of course Hannibal Lecter. In fact, one by one, all the other characters become merely personalities to bounce off of Hannibal, either by aggravating, antagonizing, or annoying him. The whole movie is clearly about him.
Yet, being about him, the movie offers little in the way of revealing more depth to the character. In fact, he gets less and less scary, less menacing, as the story progresses. When Hannibal makes little observational quips, the audience doesn't shudder, it giggles. They laugh at his little charms, like when he says "okie dokie." When his would-be captors are made out to be rather pig-headed, somewhat dislikeable people, the audience actually kind of roots for Hannibal. When Hannibal is put in a position of danger, the audience hopes he escapes. When Hannibal finally pulls his last gruesome stunt, the audience may feel disgusted at first, but then it becomes rather funny. Hannibal is no longer a threatening, unstable mental patient; he has become a high-class, charming, and humorous cannibal whose victims, at least in this movie, are often people the audience wouldn't really mind see disappearing.
Hannibal seems to have transformed in to one of those recurring movie monsters from those old cheap horror movies. Actually, the whole thing starts feeling quite like a B-movie in many places. For one thing, the makeup job on Verger, while rendering him entirely unrecognizeable as the actor who portrays him, is meant to be gruesome but just didn't strike me as being convincing. Verger as a character is practically a B-movie character. Clarice ends up looking like a babe in a rather revealing dress at the end of the movie. And then there's Hannibal's final stunt, which basically belongs in an old B-movie horror flick.
Anthony Hopkins' acting could almost be considered in the same way, but not quite. He has really gone and made Hannibal Lecter his own, and this movie is practically a one-man show; thankfully, he doesn't get too hammy with it, and Lecter is very watchable. Meanwhile, Julianne Moore holds up well but, honestly, she isn't given that much to work with. Whereas Clarice was a fragile character in Lambs, and Foster got to use her acting talents to subtley and honestly portray that fragileness, she's a much more seasoned agent in this movie and, although she still has some doubts about herself, she is a lot more daring and assertive, and so we've seen a strong female character like this before.
It seems director Ridley Scott, given what he had to work with, was really no longer going for a tense, psychologically thrilling movie as Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs was. In the sense that the material lends itself to be primarily a gruesome black comedy, he probably did the best he could with what he had. I mean, essentially, there's no real story here, just an account of Lecter's current activities and his most recent encounter with Clarice, 10 years after the last one. And if you don't care for the Lecter character one bit, and are hoping to see this possibly for a suspenseful good time, don't bother going. It's the Hannibal Lecter show, and it seems more happy to gross you out a few times, make you chuckle a lot, and make you think only fleetingly about the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice. It's not the sequel Lambs deserved, but it is amusing.
©Jeffrey Chen, Feb. 12, 2001