Red Dragon

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/03/2002

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 140 mins

Impeccably cast and superbly-acted, this is a well-directed, enjoyable thriller that sensibly keeps the Hopkins Factor to a minimum – the ‘better than Manhunter’ debate starts here.

After the disaster that was Hannibal, there were snorts of derision when it was announced that there was going to be a remake of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, with Hopkins yet again cast as Hannibal Lecter - particularly as the film had already been made once, to critical acclaim, as Manhunter, by Michael Mann in 1986.

Admittedly, the snorts were briefly muted once the rest of the, frankly, mouth-watering cast was announced (including Ed Norton, Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes), though they were raised again once it was revealed who was to direct – not Demme or Scott, but Brett “Rush Hour 1 and Rush Hour 2” Ratner.

It’s Ratner who has the last laugh, however, because Red Dragon is a thoroughly entertaining thriller that’s both faithful to the book and, yes, even better than Manhunter (which, to be fair, has dated badly).

Thinks Like A Psycho

Perhaps the best artistic decision taken by Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally (who also adapted The Silence of the Lambs) is to open the film with Ed Norton’s FBI Agent Will Graham capturing Lecter (Hopkins). This both serves as a terrific attention-grabber and neatly sets up the relationship between captor and captive, namely that Graham is able to catch psychopaths like Lecter because he can think like them.

After the opening, an impressive montage sequence tells how Graham had a nervous breakdown and left the FBI. However, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel in the Scott Glenn role) persuades the reluctant Graham to take a look at a disturbing case involving a new serial killer, the Tooth Fairy. And, after an initial look at the crime scenes, Graham realises that to solve the case, he’s going to need to ask Lecter for help.

However, though the posters and trailers are deceptively Lecter-centric, that’s not the whole story. Rather than make the Tooth Fairy an Evil Scary Monster (as he was in Manhunter), we are introduced to him, allowed to understand what makes him tick and even come to like him, through his tentative relationship with Reba, an attractive blind woman, beautifully played by Emily Watson.

Touching Tooth Fairy

This is largely down to an impressive performance by Ralph Fiennes, who manages the tricky feat of being both terrifying in his Tooth Fairy / Red Dragon persona and yet rather touching in his Dollarhyde alter ego.

Unsurprisingly, the acting is excellent. Norton isn’t quite as intense as perhaps he ought to be, but he makes an appealingly ‘human’ lead. (A particularly nice touch occurs after his first meeting with the captured Lecter and he takes off his jacket to reveal a sweat-drenched shirt).

It’s also nice to see that Hopkins is back to his sneering, sinister self, as opposed to the camp theatrics that ruined Hannibal. Fortunately Ratner has reined in Hopkins’ performance, although the exaggerated Southern accent seems out of place, given that it was originally intended to mock Agent Starling’s white-trash origins.

Huge Eyes And Sexually Forward

It’s Emily Watson, however, who really steals the film. The screen lights up whenever she’s around, and she pulls off the difficult task of being both vulnerable and yet sexually forward. (Her seduction of Dollarhyde is a definite highlight). She also has the biggest eyes you’ll see anywhere, outside of a manga cartoon – they’re practically hypnotic.

There are one or two flaws. For example, the normally excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman (as sleazy journalist Freddie Lowns) is good, but doesn’t quite convince in his Big Scene. Similarly, the film is devoid of any real shocks (oddly, the most shocking moments involve Dollarhyde’s attempts to harm himself) and has an overly familiar climax, though this is also the fault of the source novel.

There are plenty of great scenes, though (particularly the scene with the tiger) and fans of the book won’t be disappointed with the adaptation. It’s also nice to see Anthony Heald reprising his role as the smarmy Doctor Chiltern from The Silence of the Lambs, as well as the actor playing Barney, the guard.

In short, this is a well-made, superbly acted, atmospheric thriller that can comfortably sit alongside The Silence of the Lambs. In addition, Brett Ratner can hold his head up high, as he’s performed the same hack-to-‘proper-director’ trick here that Curtis Hanson managed with L.A. Confidential. Here’s hoping the suits take notice. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 16/12/2019 01:41

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