A prequel to the phenomenal Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon first sets out to re-establishing that Hannibal Lector isn’t the mis-understood anti-hero many see him as. Opening before the good doctor was caught we see him attempting to enjoy an orchestral performance. Clearly a man of refined taste the poor playing of a flute player seems to annoy Lector & later at a dinner party the flute player’s disappearance is mentioned.
Lector’s spree has caught the attention of the FBI, with agent Will Graham investigating. Believing it to be the work of a serial killer with cannibalistic tendencies Graham has been working with Lector to create a profile of the suspect. While talking with Lector, he uncovers proof that Lector is the man they are after. Graham is attacked by Lector & only just manages to fight him off wounding the doctor in the process.
Lector is captured & imprisoned in an institution for the criminally insane.
Years later & ‘The Tooth Fairy’ serial killer murders seemingly random families. The FBI is struggling to catch up with the killer so enlist the help of a retired Will Graham who is initially reluctant to get involved. He eventually agrees & begins building a profile of the sadistic killer, one that he can only complete with the help of Hannibal Lector.
Red Dragon treads a familiar path but for the most part manages to be exciting & nerve-racking. Showing how Lector was caught at the beginning of the movie instantly created a sense of affection for Will Graham, an agent who was getting closer & closer to Lector’s secrets. It’s also a timely reminder of just how much of a psychopath he is. This is emphasised more throughout the movie & while he still has a charm about him, he’s way more threatening than ever before.
The focus leans heavily on the new serial killer, The Tooth Fairy & the movie is better for it. A fascinating character but one it’s hard not to have sympathy for, being a product of a severely abusive grandmother. Ralph Fiennes excels in the role conveying intense psychotic behaviour mixed with a keen desperation to be normal.
It’s not just Fiennes who does an amazing job in his role, Edward Norton as Will Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the skin-crawling tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds & Emily Watson as Reba McClane are all memorable characters who throw their all into the story. It’s hard to fault any actor but this time round I found Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Lector to be a bit more cartoonish & less enjoyable.
This is probably the most terrifying version of Lector as it halts any notion of a mis-understood individual. It’s not about humanising him but showing how evil & calculated he can be. His role is small thankfully as the focus is elsewhere & the movie is better for it.
Although the identity of the Tooth Fairy is revealed early to us other details such as his motives & just how he is able to get away with it stay hidden for most of the running time. It’s exciting to see Will Graham moving every closer to solving the puzzle & as he begins to put the pieces together the whole picture becomes clearer to the viewer too.
The movie walks the line between horror & thriller on occasion but sudden bursts of violence do remind you of just what kind of movie it wishes to be. These are often brutal moments that feel all too real but that is as much to do with the character behaviours & reactions as anything else.
Red Dragon is a good entry in the Hannibal film series but you can begin to see the strain as it begins to bulge under the weight of its own legacy.