Movie Review: Red Dragon

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
“Red Dragon” is the fourth film from the series by Thomas Harris. The books have become known mostly for their grandstanding villain, Hannibal Lecter. Like the Star Wars series, film number four is actually a prequel, ending where “Silence of the Lambs” begins. To further muddy the waters “Red Dragon” is actually the second film based on the Harris novel of the same name. “Manhunter”, released in 1986 was the first. The film follows FBI investigator Will Graham as he tracks the serial killer known in the press as the “Tooth Fairy.” While the current version features an A-list cast and terrific source material it’s strictly a B-movie.

The film is incredibly formulaic, even by Hollywood standards. Take one proven box office brand in Hannibal Lecter, add an all-star cast, season with the screenwriter who did “Silence of the Lambs” and hire a tested commercial director to pull it all together. The results are like a carefully followed recipe; you get what you’d expect.

Led by Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal the cannibal, the rest of the impressive cast includes Ed Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Emily Watson. In addition Philip Seymour Hoffman has a nice supporting role as a sleazy tabloid journalist. Despite the line-up though, the sum is less than the parts.

What made “Manhunter” so chilling were the rituals the killer followed as he went about his work and the way William Petersen as FBI agent Will Graham made it his job to understand the inner workings of the killers mind, to unravel the mysteries behind the rituals. Here Ralph Fiennes plays the serial killer like some kind of mawkish tribute to Norman Bates, hollering at unseen figures and devouring famous paintings while Ed Norton’s Will Graham relies more on psychic flashes than complex sleuthing. This time around the scares are more likely to come from characters leaping out from behind doors as opposed to the deeply disturbing kind of horror that “Manhunter” treated the viewer to.

There’s no denying that Hannibal Lecter has become a delicious villain. Still Mr. Hopkins shows no restraint and here he’s becoming a little long in the tooth to portray the supposedly younger Dr. Lecter. Meanwhile in “Manhunter” Brian Cox’s Lecter was far more understated and perhaps even more sinister.

The true crime is that “Red Dragon” was made at all. “Manhunter” debuted long before the success of the sequel “Silence of the Lambs” established “Hannibal” as a bankable franchise. Made for what must have been a fraction of the cost, it features a less notable but far more compelling cast. Now with the opportunity to strike while the popularity is at an all time high the producers wasted little time hustling the new, lesser version to the theater. I don’t begrudge these fine actors cashing in but I’d recommend spending your money renting the vastly superior “Manhunter.” I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Red Dragon
USA - 2002