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Review: Hannibal (2001)

Hannibal (2001) 

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Premise: A sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Escaped from prison and hiding in Florence, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) finds himself being pursued by FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) and vengeful former victim Mason Verger (Gary Oldman).

What Works: Hannibal is a very different film from Silence of the Lambs in its look and tone and for that the film has earned mixed reactions from critics and fans. Despite some serious shortcomings, there is a lot to like and even something to love in Hannibal. This picture is first and foremost a love story between Hannibal and Clarice, with him infatuated with her incorruptibility and she drawn to remediating his violence. Of course, the very reasons for their attraction are the same reasons they can never be together, which make their love story a tragic affair. The story of Hannibal plays very much like an opera or a Greek tragedy and Hannibal’s adventures in Italy play up this analogy by purposely connecting the horrors of history, art, and mythology with the violence of the film. And the violence of Hannibal is considerable, including dismemberments and cannibalism. But at its most horrific, Hannibal hits notes of high macabre art as scenes of violence are staged and filmed in ways that do Dario Argento proud. The cinematography is all around beautiful and many scenes are lit like a theater stage, using mist and shadow very effectively. Hans Zimmer’s score is exceptional and supports the love story while also providing sounds that complement the visuals, especially an opera that underlies the intent and main story themes of the film.

What Doesn’t: As gorgeous a film as Hannibal is, the film is also rather clumsy. The film is not quite sure who Lecter is anymore: is he a hero, a villain, or an antihero? The film rotates between these possibilities, never settling on one, and sets Lecter against an antagonist who, although well played by Gary Oldman, is underwritten and ought to have been put in more direct conflict with Lecter. The biggest mistake, however, is the treatment of Starling. Although Julianne Moore does well, there is never a credible moment where she might compromise herself and succumb to Lecter’s charms. The push and pull of their attraction is never fully realized and as a result the climax is less compelling than it should be.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers, and a photo gallery.

Bottom Line: Hannibal is an uneven film; in many ways it’s a beautiful mess. But the contradictory nature of the film is part of its odd charm and in many ways reflects the title character.

Episode: #258 (October 4, 2009)