Film Reviews

HANNIBAL

By • Feb 9th, 2001 •

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MGM didn’t allow me to see HANNIBAL before it’s Friday opening. An advance screening was held just for the “print” media. I called MGM’s publicist and left a rambling voice message. What is MGM afraid of?

I couldn’t read “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, and couldn’t stop reading it. The book has a breathtaking sense of anger towards people. I admire Harris’s strident, dark philosophy on life. He’s bitter, but why?

Julianne Moore links herself to Jodie Foster’s portrayal of FBI agent Clarice Starling by keeping the voice inflection that marked the character’s trailer-park roots. What is missing in Moore’s performance is the flaw that allows Starling to become completely fascinated by the grisly killer, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It’s been a decade since Starling crossed paths with Lecter. Her career takes a downward spin after a bust goes awry and her new supervisor Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) is openly and aggressively out to further diminish her high profile. When Starling gets a note from Lecter she once again submerges herself in his world. Her basement office becomes a shrine to his horrific crimes and his voice resounds directly into her headphones. What Starling can’t admit and Moore can’t express is that underneath it all, Lecter turns her on. And the fact that Starling does not have a personal life is a testament to this. Enough is said in the film about Starling being “married” to her FBI job; but her lack of personal involvement in anything else attests to her own subliminal fascination with the aberrant behavior of criminals. This makes the book’s ending logical to Harris, but not to the screenwriters. Moore doesn’t invest any whimsy or pleasure into her role as Starling, so when Starling rescues Lecter I was surprised she just didn’t shoot the bastard in the legs and let him crawl away. Starling’s rescue causes a colleague’s death and Lecter’s freedom. Ten years on the job and she’s still making mistakes.

The ending screenwriters David Mamet and Steven Zaillian give us is ridiculous and suggests they didn’t read the book. Lecter is an anal-retentive perfectionist and lover of all things elegant and beautiful. Both author Harris and director Ridley Scott drape him in over-the-top Florentine excess. When we first see Lecter in HANNIBAL he is playing on his grand piano for God’s sake. Lecter would never do what the screenwriters make him do during the film’s finale.

As far as the climatic dinner scene – I just couldn’t watch it. Liotta’s character wasn’t evil enough for the audience to delight in his punishment. It was gruesome and a brave decision to stay true to the book in this respect. It still haunts me.

Ridley Scott provides a lush visual canvas and decadently drenched world of extravagance. He sets the prefect tone for the drama that perhaps unfolds too leisurely. Gary Oldman, as Mason Verger, hits the right absurd tone.

And Scott once again delivers what I now call “Scott’s Bedroom Betrayal Scenario.” FIR contributor Vladimir Lacas noticed (as we sat through another viewing of GLADIATOR on DVD) the striking similarities between the scene in GLADIATOR where Commodus kills his father, the Emperor Marcus, and the scene in BLADERUNNER where replicant Roy Batty kills his “creator/father” Tyrell. Both scenes take place in opulent bedrooms, are highly emotional, and Batty and Commodus cry. In HANNIBAL, Verger also has an opulent bedroom and a trusted caretaker who betrays him. Even THELMA AND LOUISE had Geena Davis and Brad Pitt in a memorable bedroom-betrayal scene. For Scott, being betrayed by someone very close resonates like a potent totem.

As for Anthony Hopkins, thankfully he doesn’t fall into the trap of caricature. What Hannibal – moviedom’s juggernaut antihero – will do next now that Mamet and Zaillian have cannibalized him, remains to be seen.

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