The brief “get you up to speed” paragraph: Silence of the Lambs was the second story of a trilogy of stories featuring Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal was the third, but the first, and often considered best story of the trilogy, was Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. Red Dragon was first filmed and released in 1986 as Manhunter. Harris was rumored to be so upset at the film adaptation of his story, he vowed to never convert another one of his novels to film. Fortunately for us, he caved a few years later, Silence of the Lambs was filmed, and the rest is history.
Red Dragon had a few things going for it right off the bat — for starters, this time around they had Anthony Hopkins on board. Secondly, since Red Dragon is a prequil, there’s no need for either Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore to return since Red Dragon takes place before Hannibal ever met Clarice.
Edward Norton plays Will Graham, an FBI agent that solves FBI crimes by two methods. One, he has an uncanny ability to put himself in the mindset of the killer, and two, when all else fails, he hits up his friend Dr. Hannibal Lecter for guidance. The film opens with Graham discussing a psychological profile of a serial killer with Dr. Lecter. Graham puts two and two together, and thanks to a few quick coincidences and a little bit of luck, deducts that Hannibal is actually the killer he is looking for. Unfortunately, he discovers this ten seconds too late, which is enough time for Hannibal to palm a knife and plunge it into Graham’s chest. Graham retaliates with a stabbing of his own, and when Lecter returns for more, Graham returns the favor by emptying his clip into the cannibal’s chest. Both leave with some nasty wounds, Graham retires from the agency and moves to Florida, Lecter is found guilty and sentenced to the locked down cell we’ve seen in the other two movies. Welcome to the first ten minutes of the film.
Enter two new characters. One is Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), and FBI agent working on a new serial killer case, several years later. The other is Francis Dolarhyde, AKA the Red Dragon (named after an 18th century painting), played by Ralph Feinnes. During the day, Dolarhyde is a mild mannered guy with a harelip and a striking physique. By night, he’s the Red Dragon, a serial killer the local papers have dubbed as “The Tooth Fairy” due to a nasty bite left on the victims. The Red Dragon has this nasty habit of sneaking into people’s homes at night while they’re asleep and doing nasty things to them (I’ll leave “what” as a surprise).
Crawford asks Graham to come out of retirement and help on “just one last case”. Eventually, Graham realizes what Crawford wants, and it’s for him to seek Hannibal’s assistance on the case. But unlike Hannibal’s relationship with Clarice, his interaction with Graham is a bit darker (they did try and kill each other, after all).
Much of the rest of the movie plays out similar to Silence of the Lambs. The game is afoot, and Graham must track down the Red Dragon before he kills again, with or without Hannibal’s help.
The Red Dragon is much more similar in style to Silence of the Lambs than last year’s Hannibal. The gore level lies somewhere between Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. The psychological thrills, the twists and turns, and the sheer horror of a mad man on the loose from Silence of the Lambs has all made it into Red Dragon. Hannibal the Cannibal is a much more effective support character than a lead one as we found out in 2001’s Hannibal, and although much of his screen time here is spent locked up, his acting style is allowed to run free.
The supporting cast is outstanding as well. Alongside Hopkins, Norton, Fiennes and Keitel, we meet Emily Watson (Reba McClane) as Francis Dolarhyde’s love interest, Molly Graham (Mary-Louise Parker) as Will’s concerned wife, and Freddy Lounds (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as a sleezy tabloid reporter, getting a little too close to the action as he tries to scoop the story.
Red Dragon holds its own alongside Silence of the Lambs. That being said, the only reason I don’t think it’s “better” is because it wasn’t “first”. Red Dragon shares so much with its predecessor that its hard not to be successful. That being said, there are enough surprises to keep you guessing, and enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat.
A must see for all fans of the series, or anyone else just looking for a cheap thrill. Not recommended for kids, as this flick is just plain creepy.