It is inevitable that this movie will be compared to Silence of the Lambs, and well it should. As an obsessive with regards to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 multiple Academy Award-winning film, I fear the brunt of my criticism here will be steeped in comparisons. Sorry. I also apologize for the tardiness of this review – every time I tried to see this film, it was sold out. It made Spielberg and Lucas-size bucks opening weekend, which shows you how much people have wanted it to come out. I can’t imagine that that many people read the book, since the book was, well, universally loathed. Judging by the screaming and cringing going on during some of the scenes, I suspect I am right. Director Ridley Scott knows how to work up an audience on a visceral level, and he takes a difficult text and makes it work on screen.
Lambs was first a film that focused on the intellectual chemistry between its main characters, Lecter and Starling, and secondly a crime thriller with villains capable of doing things we can barely endure to hear tell of. Lecter impressed us, he seduced us, with his charisma, his insight, his probity, his erudition, and his scorn for the discourteous. He could see through all with whom he spoke, and his disdain for those who tried to study him elevated him above simple brutal madman. Starling was gutsy to go toe to glass-encased toe with him, and Jodie Foster made us all feel we know her, her level of integrity and how completely opposite from Lecter she is. He admires her for this strength, and their dynamic fascinates us still.
Now, Hannibal the Cannibal is back, living his life, but of course eternally careful, always a dangerous animal even when he is behaving in a civilized manner. He is keenly intelligent – he knows the cause and effect of enacting his mad impulses. He also is the best of film smartypants characters, and we love him even as we cringe in fear that he might notice us. In Lambs, he was an elegant villain, all verbal knives, but whose (in that film) isolated acts of extreme violence served as a pointed contrast to his scholarly, urbane persona with Clarice. In Hannibal, he pretty much cuts loose, for no real reason, and comes toward, not after, Starling (played now by Julianne Moore, more on that in a bit), leaving a bloody mess in his wake. The gore is half-seen, mostly, even somewhat implied; (well, except for…) nothing like what we saw in Gladiator or The Patriot or Saving Private Ryan, yet all people talk about is how gory this film is. Someone compared it to Dead Alive, which is like comparing the violence in Bambi to that in Heavy Metal.
The weakness of Hannibal (the movie) is not only its source material (wherein Starling flies way off her character track and, inexplicably, becomes a sniveling victim in the process) but also in not reveling in the deliciousness that is the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is such an impressive literary figure, so unique, so compelling, and here he’s just a smart guy with a short temper who is on the lam, so to speak. Those who endured the novel will be pleased to know that they dropped a couple of the more freak-showy sub-plots, and changed the ending, but also kept it. You know what I mean. It was anti-climactic, in a way, but still effective, if the writhing sorority girls in my audience are any litmus test.
Julianne Moore. I am neither a fan nor a detractor of Moore as an actress, I generally enjoy her. I have a particularly deep fondness for Jodie Foster bordering on the maternal, so I was sad to hear she’d turned down the film (but I read the book and so was not surprised). Who can fill those cheap shoes? Foster is a great actress who filled this character with brains to match such a figure as Hannibal Lecter, and you can hear her mind working as she emotes. Tough shoes to fill. Julianne Moore kept the accent, and the screenwriter kept her cadences, and Moore did a great job, as good as anyone could do. I felt she was Clarice really about 15 minutes into the film, and I relaxed, knowing Moore would take care of business. So brava, Julianne!
Oh yeah, there were other people in the film – Gary Oldman with his creepy scars, Giancarlo Giannini as the Italian policeman who sets the action moving, but let’s face it. We love these books and films because of Starling and Lecter’s dynamic, it’s the interplay and the power balance and their unique strengths that bring us back. It’s worth seeing, but think of it as its own work and don’t (despite all I have said) compare it with Lambs.
*note: I am so so regretful of this high rating!
MPAA Rating R-strong violence/nudity/language.
Release date 2/9/01
Time in minutes 130
Director Ridley Scott