A scene from 'Red Dragon'
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A scene from 'Red Dragon'
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** stars
124 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, October 4, 2002
Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harvey Keitel, Mary-Louise Parker


This film's weaknesses won't be more pronounced on the small screen. In fact, they'll be muted -- as will its spotty good performances and other plusses. "Silence of the Lambs" is really the only movie of the trilogy that stands up to home viewing. Stick with that since it's the only good one too. OR rent "Manhunter," the original, far superior version of this story.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 04.01.2003


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Oversimplified 'Red Dragon' an uncreative Hannibal the Cannibal prequel with bite but no brains

By Rob Blackwelder

The bone-chilling psycho intellect of Hannibal Lecter may loom effectively over several scenes in "Red Dragon," a new adaptation of the Thomas Harris book that came before "Silence of the Lambs," but anyone half as smart as the erudite cannibal could easily pick apart this otherwise pedestrian serial-killer thriller.

Heavily Hollywoodized by uncreative director Brett Ratner (the "Rush Hour" movies), the film follows the "Lambs" template of an FBI agent (in this case a top-notch ex-profiler played by Edward Norton) consulting the imprisoned Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in fine form) for help finding another truly deranged maniac (Ralph Fiennes).

But unlike "Silence," or the "Red Dragon" novel, or its superior first adaptation -- Michael Mann's "Manhunter" (1986) -- this picture is dumbed down with connect-the-dots narrative shorthand and a tacked-on, grossly unoriginal, killer's-not-really-dead-yet climax.

The worst symptoms of Ratner's lowest-common-denominator filmmaking (designed to make sure even the slowest members of the audience can keep up) include 1) frequent footage of a crime scrapbook-journal supposedly kept by Fiennes' schizophrenic villain but obviously created by an overzealous art director, and 2) the way Norton talks to himself at crime scenes as part of his getting-inside-the-killer's-head process.

"You sat right here, didn't you?" he declares rhetorically as the screen flashes with images of the slaughter of a suburban family to make sure you get it. "You took off your gloves, didn't you?"

Norton's performance as reluctantly re-instated FBI agent Will Graham is strong enough to imply this kind of thing without a word, but he's not given the chance. As a result, Ratner fails to truly get inside Norton's head as he gets inside the killer's.

Despite Graham's several chin-wagging, cat-and-mouse psychoanalysis sessions with Lecter in his famous stone-and-Plexiglas asylum cell (rife, of course, with Lecter's spicy little double-entendres), no motive is clearly established for Fiennes' murderer. All "Red Dragon" offers is that he considers himself disfigured by a soft palate surgery scar and he hears the voice of his horribly abusive grandmother in his head (a la Norman Bates). Everything else is cheap character definition (he has a huge back tattoo based on a demonic painting by poet William Blake) or evidentiary detail (he works at photo lab). This guy is never goose-pimple worthy, but Fiennes does an admirable job of trying to turn him into an ominously macabre creep.

The movie gets off to a fan-fulfilling start by showing how Graham captured Lecter in the first place (it's not as interesting as it sounds) and reveling in a few amusing period details (isn't Hannibal exactly the kind of balding guy you'd expect to have tight, tiny ponytail in the '80s?).

Back behind bars after spending last year's sequel "Hannibal" on the loose, Hopkins seems ironically freed-up to be all the more menacing in that deliciously unsubtle way that has made his character such an icon. Other terrific actors fill out the cast, including Harvey Keitel as Graham's bureau boss (but why is he wearing eye liner?), the versatile Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Almost Famous," "Magnolia") as a slimy tabloid reporter used as bait by the FBI, and Emily Watson ("Angela's Ashes," "Gosford Park") as the killer's blind girlfriend who literally sees no evil.

But even with all this talent at his disposal, Ratner has still managed to turn out a mediocre movie at best -- a Hannibal the Cannibal flick with bite but no brains.


Collector's Edition
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Director's Edition
(2 discs)



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