Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Rated: R for violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality
Parental Notes: Older teens who liked the other films in the series will enjoy “Red Dragon” but younger teens may find the suspense and violence too intense.
By now, everyone knows who Hannibal Lecter is. “Red Dragon” serves up another delicious slice of the erudite cannibal psychiatrist in much the same style as “Silence of the Lambs.” This is not the first film version of the novel by Thomas Harris, but for fans of Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter, it will doubtless be more satisfying than 1986’s “Manhunter,” which featured Brian Cox in the role.
“Red Dragon” centers around the quest of FBI Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) to stop a serial killer who wipes out entire families at once. Desperate to catch the murderer before he strikes again, Graham consults Dr. Lecter, imprisoned in a maximum security asylum for the insane. Unlike Clarice Starling of “Silence of the Lambs,” however, Graham is an experience agent, and is in fact the one who put Lecter away. He still bears a horrible scar from their confrontation.
While Graham tries to catch the Tooth Fairy, as the tabloids have christened the killer, the audience meets Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), a shy, horribly self-conscious man with a cleft palate. We learn early on that Francis is the killer, but we have to struggle along with Graham to learn how and why he’s finding families to murder.
“Red Dragon” is directed by Brett Ratner, whose experience so far has consisted chiefly of music videos and comedies (including the “Rush Hour” films), but Ratner has clearly done his homework. “Red Dragon” is a sharp, tight thriller that has all the things that made “Silence of the Lambs” work.
“Red Dragon” relies on the promise of violence to create suspense rather than going overboard and showing too much in the way of gruesome special effects. Where “Hannibal,” the last film featuring Dr. Lecter, provided exposed brains and gouts of blood, “Red Dragon” gives us only glimpses of crime scene photographs and split-second flashbacks, and leaves the details to our imagination.
More importantly, although screenwriter Ted Tally (who also penned the script for “Silence of the Lambs) beefed up Lecter’s role from the dozen pages he gets in the novel to several scenes, he is not overused. The less of Lecter we get the more we enjoy him.
Besides a strong script, “Red Dragon” also has the benefit of a star-studded cast. Norton is too young for the role of Will Graham, but makes us believe in the agent’s brilliance and determination as well as his fear. Fiennes has a juicy role but resists the urge to chew scenery and makes us pity Dolarhyde in spite of the horrible things he does. The scenes with Emily Watson as Reba, a blind woman who woos Dolarhyde, give Fiennes an opportunity to show Dolarhyde’s remaining humanity.
Although the at times self-indulgent score by Danny Elfman is an occasional annoyance and purist fans of the book will notice the small details the film gets wrong, overall “Red Dragon” is a delight for anyone who loves “Silence of the Lambs” and the wicked Dr. Lecter. Both the faint of heart and those who like their films completely bloodspattered would be advised to look elsewhere.