An Unsavory Cinematic Feast
More seductive than Dracula and as slippery as Jack the Ripper, Dr. Hannibal Lecter returns to horrify and fascinate viewers again in Hannibal. With his calm voice and steely eyes, Sir Anthony Hopkins projects the same creepy elegance that earned him an Oscar as Lecter in Silence of the Lambs ten years ago. Itís hard to imagine anyone else portraying the worldís most famous cannibal.
For me, itís also difficult to accept an actress other than Jodie Foster in the role of FBI Agent Clarice Starling. Regrettably, Julianne Moore (Magnolia), who plays Clarice in this uneven sequel, lacks Fosterís shy manner and soft accent. She also fails to establish the dynamic connection with Hopkins that Foster achieved.
As a cinematic work of art, Hannibal dazzled me with its sensational cinematography and lush location shots of Florence, Italy. But it also features gruesome scenes that go too far over the top, even for a horror film. Silence of the Lambs emphasized intellect and plot. In contrast, Hannibal revels in gore. Wild boars feasting on humans and a guestís brains served as the main course at a dinner party are not for squeamish viewers like me.
Based on the best seller by Thomas Harris, the movie begins ten years after Dr. Lecter escaped from a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. Going by the name Dr. Fell, he is enjoying the good life in Florence as a man of culture and refinement --- attending the opera, giving lectures on art, playing the piano, etc. Apparently, Lecter has retired from his old cannibalistic habits. Still, he canít forget an important person from his past, the FBI agent who interviewed him with such civility and sense of purpose before his escape.
After learning that Clarice is in trouble, Lecter heads back to America to help her, even though he realizes she wants to capture him. He knows Clarice is being used by her boss (Ray Liotta) and by a vengeful millionaire (Gary Oldman), one of Hannibalís disfigured victims, to lead them to him. Nevertheless, the psychotic psychiatrist thinks he can outwit them all. "Itís time for me to come out of retirement," he declares.
For his coming-out party, Lecter brutally kills an Italian detective (Giancarlo Giannini) who is planning to turn him in for the reward. Although the cat and mouse game between these two goes on too long, at least it takes place amid such splendors of Florence as the famed Santa Croce courtyard, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Pazzi Chapel. In fact, the filmís most beautiful sequence takes place in the Pazzi Chapel. During an original opera presented there, actors wearing exotic costumes depict the death of Dante on a silk-draped stage while lighted candles flicker in the aisles, giving everything a dreamy glow. Director Ridley Scott and cinematographer John Mathieson, who also worked together on Gladiator, are experts at creating impressive "you-are-there" scenes, and this is one of their best.
Because heís trying to save Clarice, Lecter becomes a sort of hero-villain in Hannibal. Men motivated by revenge and greed represent the greater evil. Liotta (Goodfellas) exudes sexist arrogance as Clariceís supervisor who canít forgive her for jilting him, and Oldman (The Contender) evokes plenty of chills as a grotesque freak with diabolical plans for Lecterís painful death.
Ultimately, Hannibal reveals Lecter and Clarice as kindred spirits. Despite their different philosophies and morality, they are both outsiders who persist in achieving their goals. And, they are inside each otherís heads. Although the movieís ending is not the same as Harrisí novel, it paves the way for another sequel. Why am I not surprised?
(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Universal Pictures and rated "R" for strong, gruesome violence, some nudity and language.)