Review: Red Dragon

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

Its a shame that after Red Dragon’s opening, the biggest story is not the improvement from last year’s Hannibal, but instead, the lower box officer gross than Hannibal’s 58 million in February last year. Red Dragon is a solid thriller, with a multitude of tense, thrilling moments. Unfortunately, Red Dragon has solidified the idea the Hannibal Lector has run its course.

As I am sure most of you have heard, Red Dragon is the second movie based on Thomas Harris’ first novel of the same name. The first film, Manhunter, had no marquee names, and only grossed about 8 million dollars. However, Harris’ second novel, was adapted, and Silence of the Lambs become a phenomenon. Since Red Dragon is an adaptation from the 1st Harris’ novel, Red Dragon takes place before Silence of the Lambs. This presents an interesting point, Anthony Hopkins is ten years older since Silence, and is playing someone ten years younger than his ‘Silence’ Lector.

During a brief pre-credits scene, we see how FBI agent Will Graham caught Dr. becoming an all most victim. Fast forward “a few years later.” Will, who was seriously injured and almost killed by Lector, is now retired from the FBI and living a quiet life in Florida with his son and wife. When the FBI run into a case that they just can’t solve, they turn to Will, who reluctantly takes on the case. The case is of a serial killer who the press has dubbed “The Tooth Fairy.” (He leaves bite marks on his victims). “The Tooth Fairy,” who we later learn is a man named Francis Dolarhyde, has killed two seemingly typical American families. He rapes the wife, and kills the father and the kids. More interesting though, is that he smashes all mirrors in the house, and uses pieces of the glasses, and puts them in the eyes of all of the victims. (Fortunately for our stomachs, he does this post-mortem.)

Will provides the Feds with some insightful tips and leads about the profile about the killer, however, it isn’t enough. Finding himself stuck in a corner, Will doesn’t know where to turn. Knowing that another mass murder will be occurring, he must ask for help from the man who almost killed him, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector.

Red Dragon is a good step down in creativity from the pinnacle set by Silence of the Lambs some years back (...or is it forward?). Silence of the Lambs was a, for lack of a better word, yummy chess match between the equally cunning Clarice Starling, and Dr. Hannibal Lector. It is obvious from the first frame that Will Graham is bright, but not close to the intellect of Lector. While in ‘Silence,’ when Lector would make a move, Clarice would have a worthy counter move. In Red Dragon, Graham is merely begging for clues from Lector.

In Hannibal, Lector was featured in most of the shots, and commanded all of the scenes. Lector was over-used in Hannibal. It is the opposite in Red Dragon. Lector is used too sparsely, although, he is in enough frames that he gets to wear that now infamous mask. Perhaps since Hannibal over used the good doctor to the point where Lector has become more fatuous than bloodcurdling.

Suspense is a crucial aspect to a movie such as this. I think we all remember the climactic Silence of the Lambs scene with Jodie Foster chasing a killer in a pitch black basement. However, we get no such pay-off in Red Dragon. Yes, there are some moments of suspense, but we aren’t aloud enough time to wallow in them before the big “BOO!”

The title, Red Dragon, refers to the killer’s “transformation.” Dolarhyde is a severely psychotic individual person, who believes he is a tool of the mythical “Red Dragon” and is becoming one himself. Hence the extensive tattooing of a dragon on his back, as seen on the previews. However, I believe this was unnecessary for the movie to succeed. Since the screenplay writers decided to include this aspect of the book into the film, it was necessary for them to follow through with that intriguing background on Francis. They didn’t. The importance of the Red Dragon is not effectively portrayed onto the screen. All we know is that it is important to the blood lust of Dolarhyde’s.

Take a look at the movie poster for Red Dragon. Look all the way at the top. Yes, those are the marquee names participating in the film. And yes, that is 7 names. Seven top level actors are involved in this film. With that being said, the acting is (mostly) superb. Ralph Fiennes is stretches his acting talent with a role he can really sink his teeth into. Character actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a scene stealer as a sleazy tabloid writer. However, the movies lead actors, Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton fall far short than some of the other names listed on top of the movie poster. Anthony Hopkins really couldn’t do much with his role, considering how Hannibal has already been developed, and he isn’t given enough creepy lines to really play with. The real disappointment though is Edward Norton. He plays his Will Graham without feelings, and very coldly. Several times during the movie, I could have sworn he was just reading his script right from his hands, and forgetting to annunciate. Perhaps the stand out performance though, is Emily Watson, as the blind love interest of Dolarhyde’s.

While after reading all my dislikes about this movie, you may be wondering why I am giving it 3 stars. The answer to that is simple: its an entertaining movie! I really personally enjoyed it. The actual mystery of Red Dragon is well crafted. Following along Will Graham and his detective work is great, and the finale, while too quick, is a ride. At let us not forget the performances.

Red Dragon is a movie worthwhile of your $8. However, it is not as creative as Silence of the Lambs was. But it is a vast improvement last year’s Hannibal. To be blunt, it is an enjoyable murder-mystery featuring an above-par cast and the intriguing personality of now pop-culture icon, Hannibal Lector. Unfortunately, that is all it is.

© 2002 Jake Sproul

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