I read an interview with Anthony Hopkins last week in which he revealed certain discussions of Hannibal he had with director Ridley Scott. He wondered if the gore was so ‘over- the-top’, particularly in a scene toward the end, that the audience would either laugh or run from the theater puking. Well, at the showing I attended, I heard no laughter, nor saw anyone run from the theater. It’s possible, like me, that they sat still and peered through half- closed eyes at the disgusting image displayed on the screen. It was so repulsive it kept creeping back into my mind as I tried to fall asleep that night. But that’s just me. It’s a shame that the rest of the movie wasn’t as completely memorable.
Ten years after first introducing the story and characters of master criminal Hannibal Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs comes the sequel Hannibal with Julianne Moore taking over for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins reprising his cannibalistic doctor with all his gleeful gory. But those ten years have taken the juice out of the pair’s impact and the story is far less suspenseful than one would have hoped. Moore plays her Clarice with a kind of detachment it seems to me. She’s all sharp and professional in her FBI digs, to be sure, but she’s just too cold and when she’s insulted by a justice department official for heading up a bungled drug bust, it just bounces off her like bullets off Superman. There’s no vulnerability and without that, less to empathize with.
Hannibal has been on the loose for all those years and we find him now in Florence, Italy as Dr. Fell, vying for the curator’s job at a museum there. After being unfairly blamed for the drug bust gone south, Clarice is reassigned to the Hannibal case when Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), Hannibal’s only known living victim, says he has important information to offer the FBI. Verger is a super-rich recluse, who’s now so horribly deformed that he looks like the Cryptmaster from Tales of the Crypt. He gets to enjoy his riches from the seat of his motorized wheelchair or bed and sipping his expensive liquor through a straw.
Clarice spends a good portion of the film reminiscing and listening to tapes of her chats with Hannibal supposedly from the first film as she goes about trying to locate him. These are not very good moments in the film but they do serve as story exposition to remind us that Hannibal is not a very nice guy. Meanwhile in Italy, detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), slowly comes to discover who the scholarly Dr. Fell really is and that there’s a $3-million bounty for him being offered by Verger. Pazzi does the unthinkable; he tries to lasso Hannibal all by himself to get the money. Most unfortunate for him. It’s interesting that for all his unspeakable crimes, when it comes right down to it, we’re there rooting for Hannibal all the way. Hannibal creator Thomas Harris and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and David Mamet have done well to make sure that most of the victims fit Hannibal’s gourmet tastes – he only likes to eat the rude. Well, actually, it’s anyone who gets in his way with the exception of Clarice … at least for the moment.
Not one to watch his prize get away, Verger ups the stakes by sicing a despicable justice department maverick (Ray Liotta as Paul Krendler) on Clarice, to further disgrace her, in the hopes that Hannibal will come to her rescue. And when he does, Verger intends to capture Hannibal and feed him inch by inch to some flesh-eating wild boar that he’s been fattening up on the sidelines. As you can imagine, Verger holds some pretty big grudges. There’s enough gore and gristle, certainly, but the psychological terror felt in the first film is largely missing here. If they ever do decide to film a third installment the obvious conclusion would be for Hannibal to turn his choppers on Clarice after she crosses the boundary between being simply an intriguing and alluring annoyance to becoming a far more dangerous threat. For that to happen, though, Hannibal is going to have to suffer a stroke or something – because he’s that good!
It’s a beautifully directed film, though. Ridley Scott paints gorgeous pictures for us, especially the dark smoky scenes in Florence and at Verger’s magnificent castle estate set amid foggy pine trees and lush greenery. Gary Oldman’s makeup is astoundingly hideous.
Lotta says Hannibal is satisfying fare with a good and familiar villain. It just isn’t as good as the original.