Review by Jack Foley
DO WE really need to understand what made Hannibal Lecter evil? That’s the question posed by this blockbuster adaptation of Thomas Harris’s latest novel, to which the answer is firmly no.
Peter Webber’s movie is, from the start, a pointless cash-in that’s slickly produced, frequently nasty but which ultimately fails to offer anything new or worthwhile about the character.
The picks up in Second World War-ravaged Lithuania, as a young Hannibal Lecter loses his mother and father as they attempt to flee to safety and then his young sister to a ruthless group of mercenaries (led by Rhys Ifans).
Come the end of the fighting, Hannibal (now played by Gaspard Ulliel) heads to France to live with his last living relative, a Japanese aunt (Gong Li), and to study medicine, all the while determined to track down and kill the men responsible for his sister’s slaying.
One of the main problems is that this young Hannibal struggles to bear much resemblance to the Lecter we know from previous films, whether it’s Silence Of The Lambs or Red Dragon.
The young French actor Gaspard Ulliel delivers the odd camp nod to Anthony Hopkins’ performances, while several of the cat-and-mouse scenarios hint at the games he will come to play with the likes of Clarice Starling and Will Graham, but other elements simply don’t add up to the Lecter we’ve come to know.
The Japanese element of the story and its references to Samurai culture play little part in later Hannibal stories and feels tacked on for the sake of being able to give the character a sword to play with. And there’s absolutely no explanation for how he eventually comes to America and abandons his European heritage.
To make matters worse, the film is over-populated by OTT characters who spew terrible dialogue in cartoon accents. The villains, in particular, are just not scary with Ifans, especially, snarling his way so hysterically through proceedings that he feels like a pantomime villain and a less than worthy adversary for someone of Hannibal’s later intellect.
And therein lies another failing – the film simply doesn’t engage the brain in the same way that previous Hannibal stories have. Webber is more concerned with plotting elaborate (and gory) deaths for his characters, rather than really getting under the skin of any of them.
The early part of proceedings are too episodic to offer any real depth, while the latter part of the film becomes a tiresome countdown to inevitable murder and mutilation. None of it stays with you in the same way that earlier films did, especially given the director’s heavy-handed use of imagery, his tireless need to spell things out and the endless use of flashbacks.
Part of the frightening allure of the Hannibal character was trying to imagine what made him capable of such savagery in the first place; by providing such a disappointing answer Webber and Harris have removed any of that mystery and turned him into something of a cartoon figure.
The result is an utterly pointless experience that threatens to tarnish the memory of one of contemporary cinema’s greatest creations. It should be avoided at all costs.
Running time: 2hrs