Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for violence, gory images, nudity and sexuality
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
I can’t remember the last time I dragged such a truckload of baggage to a film screening. I’ve read Thomas Harris’ first novel of the Hannibal Lecter trilogy (“Red Dragon”) twice, seriously admiring its grisly sense of style and detailed attention to criminal forensics. I’ve seen the movie based on that book (Michael Mann’s “Manhunter”, 1986) multiple times, and can think of no earthly reason to remake an excellent example of film noir other than the calculating ka-ching of box office dollars.
With a wink
and a nudge to its cinematic predecessors (“Silence of the Lambs” and “
Edward Norton plays ex-FBI agent Will Graham, a Florida-retired husband and father who reluctantly agrees to shake off his mothballs to help the Bureau with a tricky pair of ghastly family murders. The investigation ultimately leads Graham to seek help from his old nemesis, imprisoned psychological forensics expert Hannibal Lecter. Graham is understandably averse to dealing with the criminally insane Lecter, as he nearly died at the good Dr.’s hands several years earlier.
Professional curiosity overcomes personal uncertainty, and Will is in the thick of it. The murder suspect is dubbed The Tooth Fairy, for the startling bite marks he leaves covering his victims’ skin. While Graham plays earnest clue-collector, the emotionally deranged Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) persists with his dirty work. A series of awkward transitions - introducing Dolarhyde’s kinky obsessions (with visionary artist/writer William Blake), his sexual fantasies (well-endowed moms) and his unfortunate childhood (at the hands of a melodramatically abusive grandmother) - attempt to clarify the killer’s wicked, wicked ways.
Campy opening sequence pitting Lecter against Graham heightens expectations, but “Dragon” is uncommonly conventional considering its source material. The current popularity (and overexposure) of fine-tuned forensics (TV’s “C.S.I.”, “C.S.I. Miami”, etc.) render detailed evidence treasure-hunts dull ordinary and repetitive. Garden-variety tension is amped up with spooky jumps and claustrophobic close-ups.
a pleasure to watch Norton onscreen, and he holds his own against
cinematography is lush, Danny Elfman’s score is predictably eerie, and the
blood-and-guts gang will revel in the gore.
But the tired, climactic showdown prompts a longing for the vastly
superior “Manhunter”, and an uneasy sense that “Dragon” is merely a superfluous