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Hannibal Rising
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by Rob Gonsalves

"The ultimate TMI movie."
2 stars

By now, many reviewers of Thomas Harris’ novel 'Hannibal Rising' and now the movie version have quoted Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s words to Clarice Starling in 'The Silence of the Lambs': “Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences.”

He could have been lying, of course. But the “new” Lecter story — which is really an old one, a prequel detailing Hannibal’s early years — does, in fact, reduce him to a set of influences. What is it that compels creators of iconic villains — George Lucas is another — to return their malign babies to the crib and then put them on the couch? Thank God Arthur Conan Doyle died before retroactively describing Moriarty’s childhood trauma involving a deerstalker cap.

Harris wrote the script for Hannibal Rising first, then upgraded it to an occasionally amusing novelization, published three months ago. In it, we learn that Hannibal is of Lithuanian blood, and that his entire family was caught in the crossfire of World War II. Only the child Hannibal and his beloved little sister Mischa were left alive, and soon enough, when some scummy Nazi collaborators discovered them in hiding, only Hannibal was left. It seems the starving Eurotrash cooked and ate poor little Mischa, which might not explain the adult Hannibal’s cannibalistic tendencies, though a meant-to-be-shocking revelation late in the game clarifies things.

For an absolutely unnecessary movie, Hannibal Rising is handsomely appointed, lushly if unimaginatively directed by Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring). You can sometimes sense Webber’s longing for more elegant material with far fewer beheadings; his handling of the violence, when he is forced to stage it, feels like a depressed capitulation to the presumptive audience’s demands for gore. A sequence in which the teen Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) takes a sword to a leering French butcher who has insulted Hannibal’s Japanese aunt Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) plays out against a lake dappled by pristine sunshine; it’s preceded by a rather contemptuous bit in which the butcher guts a fish and dumps the entrails into the water and right into our faces. There, Webber seems to say, here’s your blood and guts. Eat that with your popcorn.

Despite being packed with incident and feeling absurdly telescoped (Hannibal seems to take a very fast track to med school), the film moves glacially, with the only points of interest being Hannibal’s vengeful tracking down of the men who ate his sister. The 24-year-old French actor Gaspard Ulliel, perhaps best known for A Very Long Engagement, duplicates Anthony Hopkins’ smug, mocking sangfroid nicely enough but most often comes off as a skinny kid trying to be diabolical. The Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, who was the raffish Spike in Notting Hill and here plays the Nazi wannabes’ leader Grutas with fine crude malice, supplies the kind of unapologetic psychotic vibe the movie desperately needs but can’t get from Ulliel. We should feel that the final revelation pushes Hannibal from simple vigilante to hopelessly insane monster, but all Harris can come up with is a rewrite of Darth Vader’s infamous “Nooooo!” from Revenge of the Sith. These movies take cinema back to its melodramatic origins when women were tied to railroad tracks — yes, there is a variation of that here, too — and men howled their anguish to the skies. It’d be charming if it worked.

Impeccably cultured, and better than anyone at anything, Hannibal is the snob as serial killer. Some critics have always been bothered by the juxtaposition; I was one of the few defenders of Harris’ 1999 novel Hannibal and its 2001 adaptation, finding it a fiendish, prankish exercise in Jacobean shock-horror (the brain-eating, the intestines going splat onto the Italian sidewalk). But Hannibal Rising, more than any of the other Lecter films, plays like a gussied-up splatter flick, with the expected money shots including a knife driven up into a man’s chin and through the top of his head, and a stitches-without-anesthesia showstopper filmed in wince-inducing close-up (after this and Pan’s Labyrinth, I’d just as soon not see needle and thread near flesh anytime soon, thanks).

If 'Hannibal Rising' can be reduced to a set of influences, it would be the young-Vito scenes in 'The Godfather Part II' and something like 'Terror Train,' a mix nowhere near as fun as it sounds.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15565&reviewer=416
originally posted: 02/11/07 18:27:59
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell boring as hell 4 hannibal devotees ONLY 1 stars
12/20/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 3 stars
12/14/08 mr.mike The best of the sequels. Gong Li is always a plus. 4 stars
10/17/07 MP Bartley The fact that Hannibal Lecter looks like George McFly is really distracting. 2 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Decent thriller that offers plenty of how he came to kill, but not enough why. 3 stars
4/22/07 Abs Crap!I actually fell asleep watching it and had to come back the next day to finish it off 1 stars
2/15/07 Ole Man Bourbon Half-assed production 3 stars
2/11/07 BlindPenguinChef A 2 hour teen sociopath revenge tale set in the aftemath of WWII... 3 stars
2/11/07 Shobert Well...it's...better than Scott's HANNIBAL. 3 stars
2/10/07 Steve Michaud Makes Ratner's "Red Dragon" look like "The Silence of the Lambs." And that's no easy feat. 1 stars
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  09-Feb-2007 (R)
  DVD: 29-May-2007

  09-Feb-2007 (18)
  DVD: 25-Jun-2007

  08-Feb-2007 (MA)

Directed by
  Peter Webber

Written by
  Thomas Harris

  Gaspard Ulliel
  Gong Li
  Rhys Ifans
  Richard Brake
  Kevin McKidd

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