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Red Dragon

Lecter’s Chilling Prequel

By Kevin Der

staff writer

Red Dragon

Written by Thomas Harris and Ted Tally

Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes

Rated R

Next time you’re invited to dinner at someone’s home, be wary of any kind of mystery meat served, especially if someone you know has just vanished without a trace. The Lobdell Food Court has taught us that much. Hopefully, what you haven’t learned from Lobdell or even 8.01 is how to make sweetbreads from the human liver, but at least one man can teach you how -- Hannibal Lecter.

The insane doctor, played for the third time by Anthony Hopkins, returns to us in Red Dragon, adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel. This first book in the Lecter trilogy, filmed once before in 1986 as Manhunter, precedes Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, both of which also became films in which Hopkins starred. Though Lambs will always be unique in its novelty and psychological disturbance, Red Dragon comes close to rivaling its original film predecessor.

Will Graham (Edward Norton), the FBI agent who captured Lecter after a brutal encounter between the two, is pulled away from a peaceful retirement in Florida with his wife and young son in order to apprehend another serial killer named Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes). In order to find this criminal nicknamed the Tooth Fairy, who slaughters entire sleeping families under the full moon, Graham must revisit the jailed Lecter for his forensic expertise. Sound familiar, Clarice?

The two central relationships in the film, one of which is between Graham and Lecter, are emotionally gripping and turn Red Dragon into something more than a foolish imitation of Silence of the Lambs. The viewer is chilled by the tension in the scenes where Graham tries to pry information out of the caged and shackled Lecter but simultaneously recalls his near-death experience at the killer’s hands. Edward Norton plays this role extraordinarily well, surpassing his performance in Fight Club. Of course, Hopkins’ reprisal of Lecter is masterful and fully conveys the doctor’s disturbing psyche, arguably more twisted at this point than the later version of Clarice’s Lecter.

At the same time, the interaction between Dolarhyde and Reba (Emily Watson), a blind woman who befriends the killer, is equally powerful. One cannot help but shudder as Reba tries to put the moves on Dolarhyde, a perverse individual whose murderous identity is fueled in part from a painting of a dragon by William Blake. Dolarhyde’s motives otherwise stem from schizophrenia resulting from an abusive grandmother. Fiennes convincingly plays this complicated character, although not as well as he depicted the Nazi Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.

Comparing Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon is not a difficult task. Who was better, Jodie Foster or Edward Norton? Obviously the former. The relationship between Clarice and Lecter is unrivaled. In addition, though the suspense in this film is admittedly frightening at times, it cannot compare to that of the original masterpiece. Red Dragon’s story elements, particularly the ending, are somewhat predictable, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, it is a praiseworthy film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel. We could have received much worse from director Brett Ratner, the same man who produced the mindless Rush Hour films. Red Dragon falls just short of the filmmaking wizardry that was Silence of the Lambs, which means it’s worth seeing.