As Promised: Red Dragon Capsule

October 7th, 2002  |  Published in Uncategorized

A promised capsule review of Red Dragon.

As predicted, Alison and I trooped off to Red Dragon yesterday. As predicted, it had problems. As promised, here are some brief notes:

Quick Notes:

  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman manages a sort of skeeziness I wouldn’t believe existed in the real world if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Emily Watson is as good as widely reported. Mary-Louise Parker doesn’t have much screen time but she works well when she does.
  • It’s put together well visually, overall. More on that in the minuses, though.
  • Edward Norton isn’t as awful and “chipmunk-like” as reviewers have claimed, though he conveys less of a sense of “former federal agent” as he does “former psychology geek who was in the employ of the FBI once,” which isn’t quite right for the character. More on the things he can’t help later, too.
  • Ralph Fiennes left no impression.
  • Anthony Hopkins performed as expected: he inhabits the character of Hannibal Lecter, then gnaws his way out from the inside.

General Observations:


Red Dragon has some problems out of the gate: it’s already been done, perhaps better, by Michael Mann in his Manhunter. It’s impossible, if you’ve seen Mann’s movie, to watch this one without making comparisons. This point has been done to death by most reviewers, so we’ll leave it there.

Anthony Hopkins is another liability. On a recent Charlie Rose interview, Hopkins was asked about his acting technique. Hopkins, clearly there because he was supposed to be, and badly distracted, absent-mindedly allowed that he reads scripts “hundreds of times” to “get into the character.” But he’s clearly on autopilot throughout the movie, offering nothing much but more of the same with a little gay innuendo to spark knowing titters from, well, everybody in the audience. There’s nothing weirder than being in a room full of people who know the character they’re watching is a serial killer and a cannibal but somehow find it in themselves to be scandalized that he might also be gay.

Edward Norton, as noted above, isn’t that bad, but he’s handed some lines that are terrible in a sort of “yes, our audience is just that stupid, we better catch ’em up” sort of way. When he gets a good line, he delivers it well. His natural affability shows through.

Despite its generally steady motion from point A to point B, the movie begins to induce fidgeting at the 90 minute mark, which the director must have sensed, since he was careful to toss in a gratuitous explosion.

Though it looks nice, and even manages to establish a sort of visual continuity with Silence of the Lambs, there are points where that continuity breaks down, as if cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has kicked ass with Heat, The Insider, and LA Confidential, didn’t want to live with choices his predecessors in the “Lecter Cycle” made. At those points, usually outside shots, details begin to pop and snap from the screen with jarring resolution, demanding your attention. His interiors, however, are consistently gorgeous.

Finally, there’s an unfortunate final scene that seeks to bring Red Dragon into sync with Silence that ends up annoying more than entertaining, further forcing the Lecter character to the front and trivializing the characters who parade in front of him, turning them into props in the “Hannibal Trilogy.” Where Harris mauled his own characters to feed his reading audience more Lecter in the novel Hannibal, the film Red Dragon finishes the job by retroactively diminishing them further.

There’s not much more to say except that as the credits finally began to roll, I groaned. Two hours of my life gone, and the normal rationalization that I’d “only coughed up matinee prices” sounding more hollow than usual.

Avoid. If you can’t avoid, get someone else to pay for the rental.

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