Red Dragon: Light but no Heat, p. 2

On the surface of the new film - or, sort of new, since it is actually a remake of Michael Mann's 1986 Manhunter, featuring Brian Cox as Lecter -- we have a good looking package with some fine ingredients: Anthony Hopkins back as Hannibal, plus Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, and Mary Louise Parker. Ted Tally (Silence) wrote the script, and Brett Ratner (The Family Man, Rush Hour 1, 2 and soon 3) directed. Alas, Red Dragon is, at best, a Hot Pocket: it placates your hunger, without ever fully satisfying it.

Hannibal is a free man at the outset of the story, murdering and devouring his victims' organs, and still able to take in a night at the symphony if he so chooses. After serving up an off-key flautist to his orchestral guests, Hannibal is paid a visit by Will Graham (Norton). Graham is on the trail of a serial killer and has been consulting Lecter in his guise as forensic psychologist. Of course, Lecter is the killer in question and Graham realizes this just as Lecter guts him with a kitchen knife. Graham is able to pop a few slugs into Lecter, and both survive the encounter, though Lecter goes to the insane asylum and Graham goes into retirement. Nicely done; the audience is warmed up.

Years later, a new serial killer is on the loose, slaughtering whole families and leaving unusual bite marks on his female victims (earning him the nickname of 'The Tooth Fairy'). Despite his wife's torpid expression and his son's placid bewilderment, Graham - as we know he will -- agrees to step back into the twisted world that last led him to the tip of Lecter's disemboweling knife.

Here is also where Ratner and Tally choose to skate on the story's surface rather than delve into the depths that made Silence of the Lambs compelling. While Demme took the time to show where Clarice Starling came from, her ambitions and her fears, Ratner and Tally give us a cliché: Graham as earnest but shell-shocked cop. As an FBI profiler, Graham studies each killer so closely that he internalizes every nuance, like a sort of Method actor, until he can actually think and feel the thoughts and emotions of his quarry. In the novel, this identification leads Graham to be not only physically ripped up by Lecter, but psychologically shattered as well. In the book, Graham still suffers the thoughts and feelings that made Lecter kill - maybe because, as Lecter's mass appeal suggests, there is something irresistible about him -- and is a danger to himself and others. The FBI incarcerates him in a mental institution for deprogramming, and his recovery is always in question.

Graham's instability is left out of the film. He does 'get inside the mind' of the Tooth Fairy, but Norton is much more grounded here than in, say, Fight Club, or American History X. Much of what he does is typical detective work. In the film, Graham detects the use of bolt cutters and finds a mysterious cipher carved into a tree. In the book, Graham explored the symbolic and emotional content of the shards of mirror the Tooth Fairy lodged into his victims' gouged eye sockets.

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Still from Red Dragon:
Glen Wilson, (c) 2002 Universal Studios

November 2002

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