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USA 2002
Directed by
Brett Ratner
126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Red Dragon

"Red Dragon", the Thomas Harris novel which introduced Hannibal The Cannibal to the world and give this film its name was first adapted for the screen by Michael Mann as Manhunter in 1986.

Although critically dismissed in its day this is the better of the two films. Partly this is due to the fact that it has a bigger budget but that isn't all. Ted Tally who won an Oscar for his adaptation of The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) turns in a more convincing  script that although still having plot holes such as Lecter being able to post personal ads in the local paper unsupervised not only tightens up a lot of the niggles in Mann’s script but spares us its B grade psychobabble. 

The cast is top drawer with Edward Norton in particular much more effective than William L. Petersen as Will Graham, an FBI profiler who has come out of retirement at the behest of his former colleague (Harvey Keitel) to catch a serial killer. The film even has Ralph Fiennes as the tormented serial killer and Emily Watson as his blind near-victim. Rounding out the roster of talent Philip Seymour Hoffman has a small role as the dodgy tabloid reporter, Freddy Lounds.

The plot is essentially the same bar the ending and the fact that Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter is given a much bigger slice of screen time.  Hopkins pours on the fear with honeyed malevolence and this seems to be at least one of the reasons why the film was given a critical drubbing  - that it too facilely exploited the actor’s most famous screen persona.  From a greater temporal distance this seems less of an issue.

Instead of Mann’s excited and rather gaudy take on the novel, director Ratner gives us a polished, even soberly Gothic version with lots of wood paneling, stone dungeons and antique prints providing the setting for the proceedings (production designer Kristi Zea had worked on The Silence Of The Lambs). These are helped out by Danny Elfman’s score which replaces the ghastly 80s synthesized music from the Mann version, and Dante Spinotti, who had also been cinematographer on the earlier film, giving us much richer, more elegant visuals.

As good as the production values are, Red Dragon is a genre film. Perhaps this explains why Mann’s more florid version has a higher critical standing  - fans of pulp fiction like to keep it tacky and Ratner’s rendition is for some tastes too much packaged for mainstream consumption.  That may be so but in this case, I’m going mainstream.




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