Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ted Tally, based on the book by Thomas Harris
While Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter is, indeed, the best and creepiest of fictional villains, author Thomas Harris must also be credited with some first rate runners up. This remake of the 1986 film Manhunter from Harris’ first novel, Red Dragon, which introduces his smart forensic psychiatrist with a penchant for eating human organs is delectable in mood, style and suspense. For that we have director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 1 and 2), Manhunter’s original cinematographer, Dante Spinotti and a superb cast to thank.
After a well constructed introduction which shows how and by whom Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins reprising his Oscar award winning role) gets caught for the very first time, we move on to the meat of the tale about a new killer dubbed The Tooth Fairy and the police investigators out to nail him.
That would be Ralph Fiennes as the off kilter killer Francis Dolarhyde, Harvey Keitel as FBI chief Jack Crawford and Edward Norton as retired agent Will Graham whose intuition it was that put Hannibal forever behind bars at a Baltimore hospital for the criminally insane. It was an act that left Graham both physically and emotionally scarred and caused him to move with his wife (Mary-Louise Parker) and young son to Florida to start a new life. Now as the Bureau seeks out his help with the Dolarhyde murders, the reluctant investigator soon realizes that the best way to catch the vicious Tooth Fairy, is to reconnect with his nemesis, the incarcerated Lecter, and ask for his insights.
In a departure from recent refined character roles, Fiennes presents himself as a terrific killer. Dolarhyde is one of those lonely, disfigured (but only slightly) creeps who keeps his co-workers at the film transfer house guessing about his character. He’s nobody’s friend until blind girl Reba (Emily Watson) warms up to him and we occasionally get a taste of the kind of man he could have been had he not been brutalized as a child by a sicko grandmother. He is tormented by the voice of the “Red Dragon”, an image from a painting by poet William Blake and in homage to his demon, Dolarhyde sports a massive body tattoo that he hopes will transform him from the damaged goods that he is into some form of godly magnificence. On the road to that transformation, he feels compelled to murder whole families and jab mirror slivers into their dead eyes.
Norton works well opposite Hopkins, exuding just enough confidence and fright to make his character believable. But, Jodie Foster’s uniquely vulnerable Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs will always the benchmark for Hannibal’s dance partner. I liked Emily Watson as Reba. She’s cute and spunky; Keitel does his best tough, sensitive cop routine and Philip Seymour Hoffman does a good turn as tabloid sleaze Freddy Lounds who gets his just desserts for being the kind of pukey journalist we’ve all come to hate.
Lotta says Red Dragon with its nerve wracking Danny Elfman score tingles the nerves and pounds the heart. This one makes up for the last overly grisly Hannibal tale. It’s all tantalizing apprehension.