Red Dragon (2002)
Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2
Warning, minor plot points revealed!
One day soon, there will be a TV show about an FBI agent and her own personal imprisoned psychotic crime-solving genius. I'll watch it of course, but the thematic routine of it slightly diminished my hopes as I watched Red Dragon. I'm not one to suggest tampering with familiar models that work. So it's hard for me to understand why I felt this movie should have tried to be radically different from Silence of the Lambs.
Red Dragon is a remake of the 1986 Michael Mann film Manhunter. While critically acclaimed and pre-dating Silence of the Lambs by 6 years, most people never saw it. It's not surprising that the success of Academy Award winning Lambs and it's sequel Hannibal sent producer Dino De Laurentiis back to the Red Dragon prequel for a redeux. Once Anthony Hopkins agreed to reprise his role as Lecter, a group of A-list stars jumped on board as well.
The story begins with the capture of Hannibal Lector by FBI Agent Will Graham. We then flash forward a few years to find agent Graham being called out of early retirement to catch a new serial killer, known by authorities as "The Tooth Fairy". Two families have been ritualistically murdered in a horrific fashion. Graham reluctantly enlists the help of Dr. Lecter, to assist in his investigation. Personal feelings of hatred and resentment toward his captor lead Lecter to only marginally assist while at the same time plot with "The Tooth Fairy" the demise of agent Graham.
The cast of Red Dragon is a remarkable ensemble. Agent Graham is portrayed by Edward Norton, one of the best actors in Hollywood. The rest of the cast includes: Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was also fun to see Anthony Heald reprise his role as Lector's keeper and future "lunch" date, Dr. Frederick Chilton. Frankie Faison is also back as Barney the asylum employee and future collector of Dr. Lector memorabilia.
I loved Silence of the Lambs. I really liked the ill-received Hannibal. And I enjoyed the interesting interpretation employed in Manhunter. Red Dragon, scripted by screen writer Ted Tally brings us back to the familiar territory he created for Lambs. This was probably because of the critical disapproval heaped upon Hannibal. Whatever the reason, Red Dragon feels like a retread. It's well made, wonderfully filmed, and full of great actors doing great work but I was expecting something slightly different and new. I loved the part about Lector trying to assist the Tooth Fairy in destroying Will Graham. Perhaps if a little more of the story focused on this element it would have made for a new twist on a recognizable but enjoyable theme.
I definitely recommend Red Dragon as a film to watch. Missing it would be like watching Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi but skipping Star Wars. At the very least, It's great fun to see how the whole Hannibal Lector story got started.