Newest Review: ... characters he comes across. Jodie Foster couldn't return as Starling, as she had just become a mother. So the role of Starling was r... more
Tasty but indigestible.
Member Name: Rumblefish
Date: 21/03/01, updated on 21/03/01 (45 review reads)
Advantages: Hopkins' performance and Scott's direction
Disadvantages: Untidy and unconvincing
HANNIBAL has certainly busted more blocks than your average blockbuster; to the degree that flamboyant producer Dino De Laurentiis is already talking of yet another Hannibal movie (perhaps an adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, which was filmed with moderate success as 1986’s MANHUNTER). Yet the global stampede to see this film does not alter the fact that it is a deeply flawed work, at best an amusing and expensive folly, at worst an overblown mess. It has some merit, and is probably just about worth the price of a cinema ticket, but it is also one of the daftest mainstream movies of the past few years.
The movie is fighting an uphill struggle right from the word go simply because it has the cheek to be a sequel to a classic original. As we all know, sequels to classic originals tend to be far more GREASE 2 than GODFATHER II, and HANNIBAL compares very unfavourably to the multi-Oscar winning SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Of course HANNIBAL deserves to be judged on its own terms like any other film, but it unwisely references the previous instalment at every available opportunity (even using dialogue snippets), thereby inviting recollection of the sheer brilliance of Jonathan Demme’s 1989 horror-thriller.
The plot of HANNIBAL closely follows the Thomas Harris novel upon which it is based. Several years after Dr Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) has escaped from incarceration, he roams loose in Florence, ruminating upon his former soul mate Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), whose FBI career back in the US is in freefall. Meanwhile the crippled and disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) – Lecter’s only surviving victim – plots revenge upon Lecter, seeking to draw him out of hiding, capture him, and feed him to some specially bred giant pigs (!) With crooked cop Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) obstructing Starling at every turn, can she get to the Doctor before Verger...?
all sounds faintly absurd and contrived, that is because it is. In fact the reported problems that the project had all seem to have left some unwelcome residue. Thomas Harris apparently had problems writing the novel satisfactorily. The screenwriters (credited as acclaimed wordsmith David Mamet and SCHINDLER’S LIST’s David Zaillian) had problems adapting the novel. Then De Laurentiis had problems getting Jodie Foster to reprise her role as Starling (and problems getting a replacement when she firmly declined). That the film ended up with an A-list director, Ridley Scott, is fortunate given the countless other filmmakers who might have landed in the chair. Making such an enormous mess with every step of pre-production, it is hardly surprising that HANNIBAL has carried some of the mess into the final package. There is a sense of confusion and slight disbelief about the whole film that all but wrecks any attempts at serious drama.
The performances by the chief protagonists are compelling in a peculiar kind of way. Moore makes for an adequate Starling, if one that does not captivate in the way that Jodie Foster’s did. Moore’s problem is probably her character, for her Starling is now a morose, haunted individual (does even a hint of a smile cross her face throughout the film?), whereas Foster’s was endearingly naive and eager-to-please. The more knowing Hopkins pretty much carries on where he left off in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, amusingly portraying Hannibal as a charming, literate, courteous monster. Whatever the weaknesses of the film it is never boring when Hopkins is onscreen. Oldman appears unbilled and unrecognisable as Verger, and in truth the role is beneath an actor of his calibre. Verger comes across less as a worthy nemesis to Hannibal than an especially freakish Bond villain, even down to inventing a bizarre and laboured method of torturing and disposing of his intended victim. Oldman adds colour to his character by soundi
ng uncannily like Elmer Fudd, but that also reinforces the suspicion that he would be better suited to chasing Bugs Bunny than Hannibal Lecter. Of the subsidiary players, Liotta is given little to work with as the unprincipled Krendler, and Giancarlo Giannini’s edgily watchable performance (as a Florentine cop looking to bag the reward for catching Lecter) is eventually undermined by his character’s suicidal stupidity.
Still riding the wave of acclaim for GLADIATOR, Ridley Scott was a good choice to helm this film, as his undoubted talent for visual pyrotechnics suits the “grande guignol” tone of the film. The opening credits are great, Florence is rendered in a stylish manner, and the movie’s more graphic scenes are handled deftly. However you suspect that Scott also perhaps senses the inherent ludicrousness of the material, and he cannot help but resort to directorial cliché on occasion, putting a shootout in slow motion, using “he’s-behind-you!” camera tricks, and even shrouding Verger’s country mansion in an oh-so-spooky mist.
What prevent the film from rising above the level of an expensive black comedy are the narrative and the screenplay that harnesses it. You suspect that those who said all along that it would be impossible to turn Harris’s novel into a great film were probably right. Quite simply it is never believable or suspenseful enough. The events depicted are surreally exciting, but the sub-plots and set pieces appear to have been forced into the greater narrative rather than woven in neatly. The supposedly complex dynamic between Lecter and Starling is never fully realised, and despite Mamet’s screenwriting credit the film’s dialogue is notable only for Hannibal’s witty one-liners (“I’m giving serious thought to eating your wife”) rather than any emotive power or depth. The film eventually deteriorates into a kind of MONTY PYTHON’S
HANNIBAL, and during the hilariously eye-popping dinner party sequence you half expect Graham Chapman to appear, yelling, “Stop that! It’s silly!”
HANNIBAL is not the first mediocre film to make a bomb mainly on hype, and certainly won’t be the last. And you get the strong impression that however disappointing it might be in some respects, only a supreme effort by all involved stopped it being a good deal worse. However its grandiose ideas and sharp wit do not disguise the complete lack of depth and cohesion of the film as a whole. HANNIBAL is a very rich cinematic dish – but one rather lacking in fibre.