After discovering consulting psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is the very serial killer he was supposed to be helping to apprehend, FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) has retired to family life with wife Mary Louise Parker and son. However, Graham (who was injured by Lecter) is drawn back into the fold several years later by FBI director Crawford (Harvey Keitel) with a new serial killer nicknamed ‘The Tooth Fairy’. And the only way Graham is going to nab this sicko is to once again seek the counsel of Dr. Lecter. Meanwhile, we get to know ‘The Tooth Fairy’ AKA Francis Dollarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), a disfigured, surprisingly meek and heavily withdrawn and lonely man who is striking up a tentative relationship with a sweet-natured, blind co-worker (Emily Watson). Philip Seymour Hoffman plays repugnant, tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, who is always skulking about, whilst Frank Whaley plays Watson’s sleazy co-worker, and both Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison reprise (initiate?) their roles from “Silence of the Lambs” as the smug Dr. Chilton and orderly Barney, respectively.
This 2002 film from director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”, “After the Sunset”, “Tower Heist”) and writer Ted Tally (“Silence of the Lambs”, “The Juror”) gets a bit of a bad rap as a film cheaply trying to cash in on the success of “Silence of the Lambs” by merely remaking “Manhunter” (based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon with Silence its sequel) but with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter instead of Brian Cox. It’s not a great film, but in my opinion, neither was “Silence of the Lambs”, and at the very least this one’s a massive improvement over the frankly disgusting “Hannibal”. This may be inferior to “Silence of the Lambs”, but at least it’s not as shameless as that awful Ridley Scott sequel.
I won’t deny that it’s a shitty reason to remake this just to beef up the Lecter role and change the casting (Do you really expect anything less from producer Dino De Laurentiis, however? The guy produced “Dune” and the awful remakes of “King Kong” and “Desperate Hours” after all). However, there’s quite a bit to like here, even if Edward Norton’s coasting here. Is Norton well-cast as Will Graham? Yes, absolutely. It’s just that it’s one of the least interesting roles in the film, and while Norton is an immensely talented actor, he can’t work miracles. Thankfully, those around him mostly score. There is no doubt that Sir Anthony Hopkins is infinitely better and more subtle as Hannibal than he was in “Hannibal”. In particular, the opening scene is note-perfect. However, he is actually upstaged by the performances from Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman is bloody hilarious as the shameless scumbag tabloid reporter, and you can’t wait to see him bumped off. Even his final scene is hilarious in a sadistic way. The best scenes in the film, though, are between Fiennes and Watson. Fiennes’ character (a role both Jeremy Piven and Michael Jackson were interested in playing. I’ll let that sink in…) has a few too many Norman Bates trappings, but nonetheless gives one of the best performances of his career. He’s alternately frightening, intimidating, and strangely pitiful. Norman Bates didn’t have enormous tattoos, nor was he a scary fucker like this guy. Watson is genuinely sweet as this poor blind woman who chooses the absolute worst candidate for a love match imaginable. She’s truly touching and worrying, and their scenes together have a whole lotta stuff going on, tension in particular. This poor woman can’t see the monster in front of her, and not just because she’s blind.
The film also boasts two terrific small turns from an amusingly sleazy Frank Whaley, and the inimitable Anthony Heald in a reprisal of the role he played in “Silence of the Lambs”. He is simply the greatest portrayer of smug, wimpy, academic arseholes in cinematic history. I’m not sure Harvey Keitel’s role here is the best use of his talents, but I’m also not sure where the hell Harvey Keitel even is these days, so re-watching this film in 2014, it was nice to see him anyway. Bill Duke is similarly wasted, but I gotta say, if Duke has daughters (and I have no idea if he does or not), I would hate to be the teenage boy turning up at the door for a date and seeing that big, scary sumabitch staring at me. I believe he’s an arse-kicking Green Beret, too.
One of the film’s best attributes is the excellent music score by the dependable Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Darkman”, “Mars Attacks!”), which sends off immediately ominous, foreboding notes to put you in the right macabre mood. This film certainly has its flaws, but I think most people had a bug up their arse about this one that I just don’t understand. It’s a solid and interesting film, with at least three excellent performances, and a reliable one from Hopkins in his signature role.