Oct 11, 2013

[Movies] Red Dragon (2002)

Given the great buzz the first season of Hannibal has gotten, it seems only logical to revisit this movie and see how it compares. After all, both this movie and the TV series share the same source material - in this case the novel Red Dragon. And how each uses similar characters to tell related stories does prove interesting.

Personally, I've found this movie to be a lot closer to the level of quality that we experienced in The Silence of the Lambs. There have been other movies based on the books, but it was hard to recapture the same level of intensity and sheer brilliance that the first one did. This one certainly made a rather respectable attempt at just that.

Or maybe a significant part of my enjoyment of this movie involves the fact that Edward Norton plays a key role. He's quite the phenomenal actor and his passion for acting certainly shows across his various movies. And he was a most interesting casting choice for this one, to be certain.

Synopsis: Red Dragon is a 2002 thriller movie based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. It was directed by Brett Ratner with a screenplay by Ted Tally, who also wrote the screenplay for the first movie.

Given this movie was positioned as a prequel, it was interesting to start with the events that led up to the eventual capture of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Thus we meet FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), who has been trying to flesh out the profile of a particular serial killer. A review of the evidence has led him to believe that the killer may be a cannibal and thus the missing organs had been removed for human consumption. When he questions why Dr. Hannibal had not considered this angle, this eventually leads to a struggle between the two, with Graham barely escaping with his life. The whole ordeal traumatizes him and thus he opts to resign.

Years later, another serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy continues to elude capture. Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) decides to take a gamble and asks Graham to come out of retirement to help the FBI with this case. He eventually agrees to help, but in time realizes that he is unable to resolve the case alone. As with his previous work, he feels it is necessary to consult with Dr. Lecter in order to crack the case. But given his history with the doctor, this may prove to be an even more complicated avenue of investigation.

Sir Anthony Hopkins is in top form in this movie despite the significant gap between the first movie and this one. While I doubt many of us will believe that he appears younger than his prior incarnation, that doesn't really matter given his sheer presence on-screen. The man has a way of taking your breath away while he's fully in the role, no matter how secure he seems with all the handcuffs and chains.

Edward Norton proved to be a decent equal to spar with Lecter on screen - something that was key given how the characters were written. While Jodie Foster before was the young, upstart agent that realizes she's in for more than she bargained for, the character of Graham was supposed to be a peer to Lecter, and one that the doctor had taken a particular interest in. And thus it was necessary to portray him in a manner that was still relatively strong and yet also damaged given the trauma in their shared history. And all this came to fore in the movie quite well.

I was a little surprised by the decision to case the Tooth Fairy as Ralph Fiennes, especially given how most of his movies tend to have him as the protagonist. He certainly made for a most chilling adversary for everyone, but one that was not merely a "evil" character. As is the case more often than not, his case was a complex one with Fiennes brilliantly portraying the characters struggle with his own demons and thus the reasons for his killings.

There were elements that didn't quite work for me from a direction perspective, especially in the second half. There was a definite decision to shift more of the narrative to the Tooth Fairy and his romantic interest which left things a little off-center. I think that side of the story could have been better spaced out alongside with the investigation and perhaps more interaction between Lecter and Graham as well. It's not a significant issue, but it was certainly noticeable.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Red Dragon and respect what they managed to put together. It's strong resonance with The Silence of the Lambs is the movie's key strength and potentially its weakness as well given how I'm sure there were moments in the movie that felt "too familiar" to be enjoyable for others. Still, I feel Red Dragon still deserves 4 moments of near-death tension out of a possible 5.

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