Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Red Dragon: A Review


Things have come full circle now, as Anthony Hopkins recreates for the second time his most famous role. There is however, the pesky detail that Red Dragon is essentially a remake that had another actor in the role of gentleman serial killer Hannibal Lecter. As most people don't remember Manhunter, the previous adaptation, Red Dragon has a little more leeway in its telling. With mostly strong performances Red Dragon does well in its telling.

FBI forensics officer Will Graham (Edward Norton) barely survives his encounter with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), who had been working with the FBI on a missing person case. Graham's PTSD forces his retirement, but FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) talks him into merely consulting on a new case.

It is that of a serial killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy", and despite his misgivings Graham finds himself delving deeper and deeper into the case. However, to solve the case he needs the help of two people he despises. One is tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who made Graham's life miserable especially after publishing photos of a barely alive Graham. The other is Lecter himself, who takes this opportunity to taunt Graham.

Lecter and the Tooth Fairy however may be more involved than the former lets on. They've secretly communicated, putting Graham's family in danger. As Graham closes in on the Tooth Fairy, we find it is Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), who is currently making awkward pursuit of blind coworker Reba McLane (Emily Watson). Dolarhyde has a fixation with the William Blake painting The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, believing it has the power to change him into a powerful being. With Lecter playing both sides against the other, Graham and Dolarhyde come to a dramatic conclusion.

I think one of Red Dragon's qualities is that it managed to bring back Ted Tally, who had adapted The Silence of the Lambs, to adapt the earlier Thomas Harris novel. He added elements that establish both Lecter's murderous calm and the Lecter-Graham relationship. In the pre-title sequence we know what Lecter has done to the unfortunate flutist who couldn't play in tune. We also see that Graham is both intelligent and naïve when it comes to the wolf at his door.

Brett Ratner is not known as one of the best directors around, but I was surprised at how good Red Dragon was under his supervision. He moved things well and did not give in to some of the more gruesome aspects of the story. 

To be fair though, no matter how much music is cranked up, you can't make someone literally eating a painting look scary. It looks comical, and Red Dragon loses a bit of steam after Francis and Reba have their sexual encounter. It revives slightly at the concluding standoff between Dolarhyde and Graham, but by now you pretty much expect this "twist".

Red Dragon has very good performances on the whole. Norton is either blessed or cursed with a seemingly eternally youthful face, but here it works. His Will Graham is a haunted, tormented figure, one who is simultaneously appalled and lured by the darkness of human depravity. His scene where he attempts to explain to his son what caused his breakdown is a strong bit of acting, and he gives Graham an assurance that allows him to stand toe-to-toe with Lecter, betraying little fear.

Keitel is equal to the task of Special Agent Crawford, professional and rational. Hoffman is unscrupulous as Lounds, making his end if not scary at least surprising. I thought he wasn't taking the situation as seriously as Red Dragon was asking, but nothing horrible. Watson too handled her American accent and the blindness well, though I think nowadays there would be calls to have Reba played by a blind actress.

I think it was the villains who seemed to veer a bit into spoof. Fiennes' Dolarhyde was more buff than usual but at times I found myself suppressing chuckles when he was arguing with the "Red Dragon" or attempting to be menacing. Seeing him devour the painting was also a bit hard to swallow (pun intended). Hopkins for his part was running on fumes, almost a bit camp as Lecter. Perhaps Lecter fatigue was finally setting in. It wasn't terrible but not as calm as controlled as his first effort. Anthony Heald, who along with Hopkins returns to recreate his role from The Silence of the Lambs, continues to make Dr. Chilton a most obnoxious and arrogant fool.

I was surprised at how well Red Dragon holds up even if the ending seemed a bit too much (why did the Grahams not verify whose corpse was in the burned-out mansion?). While The Silence of the Lambs will always be a hard act to follow, it should be noted that Red Dragon technically precedes it. As such, we can be a bit more forgiving.




The Silence of the Lambs


Hannibal Rising





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