I lost all interest in Dr. Hannibal Lecter after The Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal. I, like most people, found him to be fascinating in his 1991 Oscar winning debut but in Hannibal, director Ridley Scott chipped away at some of the mystery surrounding the doctor. His show-more-than-suggest approach to the visuals (Hannibal eating a man’s brain while he was still alive for example) ruined the thriller aspect I had loved so much in Lambs. Not knowing, or being unable to see – just like Clarice – made Hannibal’s 1991 outing, gripping.
Removing Hannibal Lecter from the speculative parts of my mind (believe it or not he was only on screen for just over 16 minutes in The Silence of the Lambs) transformed him from an unknowable monster into mere man. When Red Dragon, this time a prequel, was released in 2002 it didn’t even register on my list of films to see.
I’m afraid I don’t have many positive things to say about Hannibal Rising, the latest film installment and origin story depicting Hannibal Lecter’s evolution into a serial killer. While director Peter Webber arguably has little mystery left to play with, he has directed this film in a linear manner that has further eradicated any mystique that may have survived.
The intelligence exhibited in The Silence of the Lambs is replaced with a balls-to-the-wall action approach and Lecter is reduced to an action anti-hero who is trained in the way of the Samurai (seriously). Gong Li’s character provides this instruction and as a mentor/lover figure she flares up as his conscience when Lecter begins to lose his humanity.
The casting of Gaspard Ulliel as the young psychopath is also problematic. Sure, he may be pretty to look at but this again finds itself at odds with what I imagine the younger Hannibal to look like. Ulliel as Lecter, in my opinion, is too lanky and too deft in his movements, especially when it comes to killing.
The transition from unaffected youth to twisted creature is almost instantaneous and there is no believable personal development on his part. No mistakes are made that can be learnt from. When compared to another fictional serial killer such as television’s Dexter – who makes mistakes and is driven by a deep-seated conflict within himself – this incarnation of Hannibal is simply a bore.
Bloody and ruthless on-screen visuals are about the only thing Hannibal Rising has going for it and these will keep fans of gore happy throughout – but don’t go expecting much more than a tired and formulaic revenge flick.
As for the reason why Hannibal is the way he is: Well, I won’t go into details, but as a plot device I will say the events that created him work well as a motivator within this film and across the entire arc of Hannibal inspired material.
Unfortunately, author and screenwriter Thomas Harris and director Webber hold back a large – supposedly tragic – bit of information for the film’s dying moments. What was, no doubt, meant to be in the same vein as great Greek tragedy is laughable, further weakening the film. Hannibal Rising is, simply, a tragedy of another kind and it is time the good doctor retired. Permanently.