Hannibal returns to our screens in this overly gruesome thriller which lacks the elements which made the original so good. Once more Anthony Hopkins resumes his role as the lovable cannibal with Julianne Moore standing in for Jodie Foster as Clarice and an impressive supporting cast which includes Ray Liotta and Gary Oldman. If you are yet to see the film don´t read on as I am going to discuss specific scenes in detail.
The story is based on the book by Thomas Harris. Direction this time comes from Ridley Scott, a safe bet if you want a mixture of action and tension (he directed Alien). The actors involved, the director, the bestselling book, the success of the original, all suggested something a bit special may be in order here. However this film never came close to acheiving the level of tension and excitement which the Silence of the Lambs appeared to reach effortlessly.
The story is straightforward enough, we begin by being gently introduced to the new Clarice. She botches a job and is eventually suspended, this attracts her old pal Hannibal to return for an uninspiring showdown. The beginning of the film was passable although the scenes with Clarice and her FBI chums were very standard, how often does the local cop decide to ignore orders and cock up the operation? Too often basically and it was lazily thought out in this case.
In contrast we had an interesting glance into Hannibal´s life in Italy, working in academia he is discovered by Inspector Pazzi, a kind of evil Italian Columbo. As there is a reward for Dr Lecter he decides, moronically, to try and capture him. Again what I disliked about it was the way they made this cop murder a dying kid to establish that he was evil, at that point I knew he would be murdered by Hannibal later in the film. This is predictable stuff, and provided an early clue to the almost offensive way they tried to turn Hannibal into some kind of hero, you were clearly supposed to sympathise with him.
After the boring FBI cock-up Clarice is suspended and, surprise surprise, decides to ignore her superior officer´s orders to stay at home and continues to investigate things. She has had a letter from Dr Lecter and it isn't long before he is back in the good old US of A. The thing about this is, I realise that immigration officers are not always great at their job but Lecter is supposed to be on the ten most wanted list. I have a sneaking suspicion that they may just have recognised him. Anyway he has no problem re-entering the country and wandering around freely without being recognised.
In the background of all this happening is the twisted millionaire Mason Verger, played by an unrecognisable Gary Oldman. Supposedly when he was in a drugged state he took the advice of Lecter and cut his own face off (yeah right). Because of this he hates Lecter and wants to hunt him down at all costs. Oldman is excellent as usual but the make up they gave him is hideously over the top and designed to shock (if he was really that rich he could have had reconstructive surgery).
Also floating about in the background is Paul Krendler, a kind of sleazy cop played by Ray Liotta. Liotta is also a quality actor and does well with the cliched character he has been assigned. He features in the most gruesome scene of the film, in which Lecter removes the top of his skull and cuts out a piece of brain before frying it and feeding it back to him. This is really sick stuff for a mainstream film, they must have been desperate to shock the audience. Remember that this is the same Lecter you are supposed to root for, yet the cop isn´t evil, just slimy. The implication is that he had a hand in Clarice being suspended but that hardly deserves a fate like this. The scene is well shot but would have been far more at home in a real horror film.
Now building up to the end this film really went down the toilet for me. First off there is the fact that the mad millionaire Verger is able to get Lecter, his men capture him and they set him up to be eaten by pigs (that old gangster story). Idiot Clarice for some unknown reason bursts in and saves the sick, twisted, serial killer from certain death, killing two more innocent men in the process, before she herself takes a bullet. Hannibal picks her up and turns to the servant of the twisted Verger and suggests he pushes Mason Verger in and blames it on him, this final part was a funny scene and well-observed.
Getting back to the ridiculous, Hannibal carries Clarice out, takes her back to a house and then the scene with poor old Paul occurs. After this he tries to escape and she tries to stop him, there is an uncomfortably awful scene in which he kisses her and then finding himself handcuffed to her totally stupidly cuts off his own hand. I don´t believe this for a second, sorry but since when does he love her? Even if he did why the hell did she save him (you don´t want to encourage a mass murderer).
The aftermath sees him escaping on another plane and feeding a small kid bits of brain from earlier. Shamelessly leaving it open for yet another film. I was surprised at the intensity of the violence in the film when you consider that they tried to make you sympathise with this, sick beyond belief, killer. The film lacked the cleverness of the original, there was no real psychology used here, just a tired bunch of cliches and violence. Although you were supposed to already know Lecter is smart he does very little that is smart in this film. There was no real mystery or thrill like in the first film and they didn´t have the guts to kill either of the main characters.
Both the main characters acted brilliantly throughout, Hopkins does approach realism, it is the story that is weak. I am also one of the few people who prefers Julianne Moore to Jodie Foster, but she was always going to find it difficult to replace a well known character and it doesn´t really work, I didn´t really find myself thinking of her as the same character who spoke with Lecter in the first film. Apparently Foster didn´t agree with the ending of the book in which Clarice elopes with Lecter (come on!) and she refused to do it and then they changed the ending anyway (strange).
The DVD contains extras which sound good but aren´t really. Most of the deleted scenes are rubbish and you can see why they were cut, others would have made the film make more sense (eg how does an Italian policeman access FBI files? This is explained in one of the deleted scenes, although I will pedantically point out that anyone can look at the ten most wanted list, I´ve looked at it myself without a password). There is also an alternative ending, excellent I thought, what a great idea. It is very similar but much better in that it misses out the handcuff rubbish, but is otherwise the same (much more believable). There was also commentary with the director and some featurettes. If you wanted you could watch the four cameras for a shot and imagine how they were cut together but, although initially interesting, this becomes boring very fast.
Overall I wouldn´t really recommend this, it bears little relation to the original and I certainly don´t think just because you enjoyed the first one you would enjoy this. Some people would undoubtedly be shocked or offended by the violence, and more so by the irritating suggestion that you should root for a psycho of this magnitude.