Hard to swallow
If you’re looking for a gory horror show consisting of impressive make-up and special effects, director Ridley Scott’s grisly Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, may appeal to you. If you’re looking for a sequel worthy of its predecessor, you might have to hold out hope for possible future installments of the series.
Hannibal is a good-looking, but mostly trashy, ode to one of cinema’s all-time great villains, Hannibal Lecter. Scott has made a movie that looks good and contains some genuine chills and a fun turn by Anthony Hopkins as the unearthly cannibal. Sadly, it’s missing the depth of Lambs. While Lambs was a psychological battle between Special Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, replacing a justifiably reluctant Jodie Foster) and Lecter, Hannibal is more of an excuse to show people being torn apart by wild boars or, in the case of a sad character nicely played by Ray Liotta, being fed one of his own organs while still alive.
Yes, some of this stuff provides a gross howl, and Scott takes it to a dark comic level that works sporadically. Still, much of Hannibal drags with no sense of purpose, and seeing Lecter dispensing of his enemies with the supernatural strength and precision of Halloween‘s Michael Myers reduces him to a cartoon character instead of the frighteningly “real” monster of Lambs.
While Julianne Moore is a capable replacement for Foster, Starling has become a bland, depressing character, humiliated by higher-ups and reduced to crying spells in her lonely apartment. Call me sentimental, but I didn’t have a good time watching Starling fall from grace.
Thank God the screenplay isn’t always loyal to the source material (the lousy Thomas Harris novel), because this could’ve been a major disaster. While this film does maintain the murky, downer spirit of Harris’ prose, it doesn’t disgrace the Starling character to the degree that the novel did (Starling doesn’t have sex with Lecter in the film, something none of us needed to see).
The novel’s Mason Verger, Lecter’s only surviving victim, is brought to the screen via some nice make-up work and a serviceable performance by an uncredited Gary Oldman. Verger is wheelchair-bound with a patchwork face, mutilated by his own hands after Lecter urged him to cut it off and feed it to his dog (an unpleasant sequence shown in flashback). Verger plans to capture Lecter, still a fugitive and living the good life in Italy after nine years, and feed him slowly to a pack of wild pigs.
While Oldman does a good job with the prosthetics, this subplot only serves as a silly time filler until Lecter returns to the U.S. and makes contact with Starling. The moment when the two have their first real contact on cellular phone is the film’s best and should’ve come about a half-hour earlier. Hannibal‘s buildup to the Starling-Lecter showdown is laborious and shallow stuff, with the film kicking into a more enjoyable mode too late to be forgiven.
The climactic scene involving Liotta’s under-utilized character, an enemy of Starling, is hilariously disgusting. The scene could’ve had more resonance if Liotta’s character received some more screen time, but instead it feels gratuitous and sensationalistic, because we haven’t been provided with enough backstory to form a real opinion on Liotta. What Ridley Scott manages here might be considered a genius application of special effects, but it’s more suitable to silly George Romero zombie movies than supposedly highbrow psychological thrillers.
In the end, Hannibal is more goofy than terrifying. Scott has made a film from a dreadful novel that is better than total garbage. All things considered, that is somewhat of an achievement, but not nearly enough for this Silence of the Lambs fan.