Red Dragon: Light but no Heat, p. 3

The Tooth Fairy is actually Francis Dolarhyde (Fiennes), a hare-lipped muscleman, whose cleft palate required many childhood surgeries and the extraction of all his upper teeth. The novel details his abuse as a child at the hands of his cruel grandmother, the beatings, the destruction of his self-image, and ultimately, the castration that leaves Dolarhyde a physically and mentally twisted man-child. And Michael Mann's highly stylized film spends considerable time dwelling in Dolarhyde's painful insecurities; we see the spectrum of the killer's emotions and understand his killing sprees as moments of resolution for Dolarhyde, not moments of madness. The result in Manhunter is a killer like Lecter: a monster we can identify with -- like Shakespeare's Shylock, a monster all the more fearsome for being human. Yet in Red Dragon, he's a typical victim of abuse, prone to snap unpredictably.

Demographics seem to have killed the Lecter franchise. Silence of the Lambs was a film that had ambivalence (from a killer who fascinated us), real terror (from a protagonist deep enough for us to identify with), and originality (from the unusual format in which the scariest person onscreen is not the hunted killer). All highbrow values, now replaced by good-versus-evil, loud noises to scare us, and easy-to-understand formulas of why bad people act as they do and how good people catch 'em. Good lowbrow values. Oh well.

Red Dragon is not a Hannibal Lecter film. Thematically, it doesn't plumb the depths of the mind of a serial killer, inviting us to be seduced by him; Lecter would find the film a bore. But even in terms of plot, Lecter is not the center of the film; the manhunter Graham is. Yet because Lecter is the franchise, we spend more time with him than he deserves, watching him pace around his cage and offer trivial insights on the case. Graham could be an interesting character: an agent who, like the film's audience itself perhaps, is drawn to and corrupted by violence. Yet there is a distinct lack of catharsis in Graham as there was with Clarice Starling. Like a typical Hollywood hero, he goes through his ordeal, but - Lecter's and Dolarhyde's seductions notwithstanding -- is not transformed by it.

As a consequence, Red Dragon fails to form a satisfying emotional whole. Ratner manages a few scares, usually prompted by an abrupt cut or a blast of sound, but the pervasive sense of dread of Silence never materializes. Red Dragon has an appealing outer shell and good ingredients, but lacks sufficient meat to sink your teeth into.

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

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