Worth A Look: 17.32%
Just Average: 26.14%
Pretty Crappy: 17.65%
18 reviews, 198 user ratings
by Andrew Howe
Films are capable of provoking a range of negative reactions – with some I lament the squandered opportunities, with others I rue the wasted hours that will never come again. A very few, however, trigger unbridled contempt, leaving me brimming with enmity toward those responsible for bringing these malformed monstrosities to the screen.Hannibal is such a film, and I say this without reservation: it is a loathsome, indefensible work, an abhorrent celebration of evil which should have remained buried in the darkest corners of its author’s mind. Penned by creatively bankrupt scribes, championed by actors who should know better, and helmed by a director who, until now, has been worthy of respect, it is an exercise in exploitation that, were it not for the pedigree of its participants, would have been labelled a low-grade slasher flick and dismissed by anyone unfortunate enough to fall within its orbit.
"A film that should never have seen the light of day"
There are many films which, by their very nature, defy any attempt to craft a follow-up. The Shawshank Redemption springs to mind, as does Casablanca – these efforts are self-contained works which say all that needs to be said about the subject at hand, concluding on a satisfying note that could only be sullied by extending the narrative. The Silence of the Lambs falls squarely within this category – it is a powerful, unsettling film that took the relationship between Starling and Lecter as far as it needed to go, and I would suggest that there are few viewers who found themselves hungering for more.
None of this wisdom prevented the author of the source novel, Thomas Harris, from trying to turn a quick buck by giving his audience exactly what they didn’t need. Like Frank Herbert (author of Dune), he traded on the goodwill engendered by his masterpiece, and if he actually thought he had something to add to the original work then it’s not apparent from the finished product.
Since The Silence of the Lambs explored the psyches of its main characters in exquisite detail, the script’s major hurdle is to find a way to fill 135 minutes of screen-time. It starts on a promising note, introducing Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), one of good doctor’s victims who has devoted what’s left of his life to wiping the smile off Lecter’s face through a grotesquely-conceived form of vigilante justice (Snatch utilised a similar concept, but only Harris and Ritchie know who came up with the idea first). It transpires that Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is living the high-life in Florence, and in short order a couple of posses are on his trail, one of which comprises none other than his erstwhile psychological punching-bag, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore).
For the majority of its running time the film serves up an acceptable, if hardly inspiring, runaround, pitting the suitably-unreformed Lecter against his dim-witted pursuers. An extended sequence involving an Italian cop’s attempts to garner Verger‘s reward is suitably unsettling: Lecter’s understated menace practically drips from the screen, lending this portion of the film a truly oppressive feel. Unfortunately, the dark psychological overtones of its predecessor are absent, and by the second half it becomes a stock-standard thriller which fails to present us with anything remotely innovative.
Director Ridley Scott appears most comfortable when the lights are dimmed, and he invests many scenes with a noteworthy intensity (a sequence in which Lecter is stalked by a petty criminal is especially memorable). The film is painted on a considerably smaller canvass than the likes of Gladiator and Blade Runner, however, so Scott is forced to put his affinity for majesty on hold, but he still manages to enliven the proceedings with his trademark visual flourishes (next to David Fincher, he was probably the best man for the job).
We are entitled to expect an admirable performance from Hopkins, and he does not disappoint. Unfortunately, we’ve seen it all before, and Hannibal does not afford further insight into Lecter’s character (it does, however, provide a fine line in amateurish, uninspired “humour” – it seems the film’s creators loved Lecter’s final line in TSOTL so much, they felt the need to reprise the underlying sentiment with monotonous regularity). As a result Hopkins is given little room to move, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be garnering any award nominations for what is, for all intents and purposes, a second-string retread of a ground-breaking performance.
If Hopkins is hamstrung by his underwritten role, then Julianne Moore is positively immobilised. Moore is a capable actress (her performances in Magnolia, Boogie Nights and Short Cuts are especially noteworthy) but here she is given precious little to do: Starling spends the first half of the film cooling her heels, and most of the second playing second-fiddle to Verger and his goons. She is also considerably less intriguing this time around – gone is the sensitivity afforded Foster’s Starling, and in her place is an unstable, mildly-unpleasant individual who, with a single irrational attempt to protect the non-existent rights of the accused, loses whatever sympathy she manages to elicit from the viewer (it’s also worth noting that Starling and Lecter share very little screen-time, which was one of the highlights of the first film).
The supporting characters are painted with similarly-broad brushstrokes (Ray Liotta’s pig-headed detective and a bunch of stereotypical thugs are virtual non-entities), with only Giancarlo Giannini‘s Italian inspector and Verger standing out from the crowd (unfortunately, Oldman is denied the use of his expressive features by virtue of his character’s unfortunate similarity to the Elephant Man). Again, this is not the fault of the actors, who are more than capable of setting the screen alight, but rather the script, which lacks the solid central core of its predecessor and ends up going nowhere fast, leaving the beleaguered supporting players to pick up the slack (a task which, in the absence of well-rounded characters, is beyond them).
If this was all that was wrong with the film, I would have pronounced it a not-unexpected failure and left it at that. However, there is something much less palatable at work here, and it can be laid squarely at the door of the film’s underlying philosophy, and its monstrously ill-conceived denouement.
I have never attempted to hide the fact that I despise films which seek to glorify the actions of those who would harm the innocent. It’s certainly a fine line – I loved Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction, but those films featured characters who, by and large, stuck to killing their own kind, and in any event some measure of justice was doled out to the perpetrators.
Lecter, on the other hand, is evil personified, a man who deserves a slow and lingering death several times over. As the film wears on, however, it becomes apparent that we are meant to, if not exactly support Lecter, at least take an interest in his continued existence (the fact that the audience at my screening had a good old chuckle at his most overtly evil statements and acts is a testament to this fact). This detestable philosophy is underscored by Lecter’s victims being portrayed as rather seedy individuals, but this doesn’t absolve him of the crimes he has committed in the past. What we are left with, then, is a film in which a serial killer continuously avoids the justice he so richly deserves, and I am left to question just what it is we are supposed to take away from the proceedings.
It is well-known that one of the greatest gifts bestowed by the cinema is that it enables us to peek into places we’d never dare tread, and walk away unscathed. That being said, I have never understood why anyone would want to critically examine the life and times of a serial killer, for such bestiality should be mourned in private, not splashed across the silver screen. If, however, you choose to craft such a film then you owe it to your audience to allow some measure of justice to prevail, and you certainly should not attempt to make a pseudo-hero out of a man who tortures people who are no better or worse than those the viewer holds close to his heart.
Of course, it’s not impossible to do this kind of thing well – Se7en had more style and insight in its opening credits than Hannibal can muster over its entire duration, and not only did that film refuse to glorify the villain, it left most of the violence to the viewer’s imagination.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Scott’s latest opus. As you might expect from the subject matter, the film features several moments of mid-level violence – suitably arresting, but nothing that will cause you to lose your lunch. However, in the final ten minutes it discards any notion of restraint and serves up one of the most sickening, reprehensible displays of gratuitous savagery I have ever witnessed. I have squirmed my way through a few high-level slasher flicks in my time, but this puts them all to shame, and provides one of the most indefensible climaxes imaginable (it is no coincidence that this very scene is rumoured to be the reason for Foster refusing to take part in the project).
It is conceivable that I’m overreacting to a moment of comic-book violence (my fellow viewers seemed to find it hilarious, which of itself marks the scene as a serious miscalculation on the part of the authors), but I would suggest that this is not an action film or low-grade horror-flick. It is meant to be viewed as a serious psychological thriller (if not, then it damn well should be, since the only alternative is to view it as a joke at our expense), the kind of effort that draws the viewer into its slavering maw, and, in spite of its limitations, to a certain extent it succeeds. To then assault us with this kind of depraved, horrific violence is an act of malice, and marks the film as the product of callous, insensitive individuals who, with one five-minute sequence, reminded me of everything that is wrong with the age in which we live (and that’s not meant to be taken as a compliment – this is not Schindler’s List we’re talking about here).That an art form which has brought us some of the most sensitive, heart-rending works imaginable can also throw up this kind of misshapen, slouching beast is a cause for sorrow, and everyone who had anything to do with its production should be thinking very carefully about where their priorities lie. It’s a film which, outside of blatant, unforgivable exploitation, had no reason to be made, and had I the power I would see every print shovelled into a rendering factory furnace. See it if you must, but heed my words well, for every dollar it earns will only reinforce its creators’ belief that what they have wrought is acceptable. And that, my friends, would be the greatest crime of all.
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originally posted: 02/08/01 16:47:24