Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Okay... so this is it. This is the last batch of RED DRAGON reviews I’m personally going to bother to publish. I was set to see the film on Tuesday night, but I was wicked sick after my trip to New York, and I stayed home last night for some homemade chicken soup and some TLC. I’ll leave this one to our very able pack of reviewers today, and I’m glad Alexandra DuPont is back on the scene with her take on things. Let’s get started, shall we?
Lovely to be back. Having finally kicked the laudanum once and for all, I'm more or less in writing trim and feeling strong enough to digest the latest adaptation of Red Dragon, helmed by of all people Mr. Brett Ratner.
Brett "Rush Hour" Ratner? The man who will soon defile the Superman franchise? That fellow's a right ponce!
I must respectfully disagree. Am I the only person who is actually mildly intrigued by Mr. Ratner's potential? While he hasn't exactly carved out a niche as a visual stylist (Ratner seems destined to garner all the auteurist cred of, oh, I don't know, John Badham), he did direct one film I actually enjoyed quite a bit, Family Man... a personal guilty pleasure that was far better-acted and more involving that any shameless Capra rip-off has a right to be, and which managed the rare feat of combining the personas of Hollywood Nicholas Cage and Batshit Nicholas Cage in a single, complex performance.
(BTW, for some recent Batshit Nicholas Cage you may not be aware of, be sure to peruse the recent Japanese television commercials where he's selling Pachinko machines.)
Anyway. Ratner's work with actors on Family Man made me think he might be able to get out of his own way and wrestle some good performances out of a talented cast... and his lack of visual affectation led me to hope he wouldn't muck up his fantastic source material with the sort of pretentious "atmospheric" twaddle that Ridley Scott troweled over the less-fantastic Hannibal.
What did you think of the first adaptation of Red Dragon, Michael Mann's classic Manhunter?
I'm not as high on that film as a lot of my movie-geek pals (my favorite William Petersen-as-a-screwed-up-cop movie is To Live and Die in L.A.), but I certainly admire Manhunter. Enjoy Brian Cox as the more deadpan Hannibal. Enjoy Petersen. Enjoy all the stark, alienated, beautifully composed "Miami Vice" visual shtick (lensed by Dante Spinotti, who also lensed Red Dragon, perhaps as a perverse guarantee that there would be no accidental cribbing). Love the rock score. Love Tom Noonan's big, weird head and his performance as Dolarhyde. However, have always lamented Mann's omission of the book's extensive Dolarhyde backstory/side-plot and all the trimmed Lecter scenes.
Does Ratner's Red Dragon put all that stuff back in?
It does, and that makes me glad: I consider Red Dragon (along with Mark Frost's List of 7) to be one of the best... if not the best... greasy pulp entertainments of the past 20 years. (BTW, if you haven't read List, you should; it can be had in used bookstores for like 95 cents these days.)
So what's the upshot here? Your Socratic-dialogue structure drives me batty and I am aching with a desire to quit reading!
The upshot is that Red Dragon is really, really good. It's not great, and it's not perfect ... but its flaws are relatively small and it's extraordinarily faithful to the book until its final scenes (which I'll sort of get into in a minute). Ralph Fiennes is simply marvelous as Dolarhyde. Anthony Hopkins is funny and twitchy but self-aware to the degree that he's doing Lecter rather than playing him, if that makes any sense. And while the movie lacks the craftsmanship (or, depending on how you look at it, the pretentious visual twaddle) that would put a fine glaze of Art on the film and make it great, or even classic, it's a plenty damned competent and entertaining crime thriller. I predict that Joe and Jane Sixpack will gobble it up; it'll rake in cash like a New York borough president.
What's the story?
FBI profiler Will Graham (Edward Norton) quits the profiling biz after his capture of Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins, as if I needed to tell you) nearly kills him. Against the wishes of his family (thankless role of wife played by "West Wing" feminist activist Mary-Louise Parker), Graham gets called out of retirement by Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to help catch the "Tooth Fairy" ... a fledgling serial killer who executes entire families and puts shattered-mirror fragments in their eyes.
Meanwhile ... and I was really happy to see this ... the movie finally puts onscreen the book's extensive exploration of the life and mind of killer Francis Dolarhyde (Fiennes) ... who retreats into his "Tooth Fairy" depredations to escape a lifetime of abuse and cleft-palate scarring (which, if we're to believe this film and Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, drives people to murderous rages. For God's sake, just grow a mustache!)
Graham moodily explores crime scenes. Graham reluctantly seeks advice from a hilarious, resentful, ham-acting, chained-up Lecter. In a bit of a cop-movie cliche, Graham's wife is unsupportive. Dolarhyde feels conflicted about his murder spree when he meets a spunky blind woman (Emily Watson). Seedy tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman, utterly wasted) mucks things up while reporting the case. Mayhem ensues.
(1) The inclusion and execution of the tragic Dolarhyde story arc, which is marvelously creepy and well-acted by Fiennes and Watson. (And yes, ladies, Fiennes once again goes full-frontal, as if The English Patient and that triple dose in Sunshine weren't enough.) Big creep-factor props to the scene in which an unknowing Watson goes down on Fiennes, unaware that he's partially aroused by a videotape he's watching while plotting his next home invasion.
(2) Frank Whaley (!) as the seedy little letch who's also attempting to court our blind heroine.
(3) The Graham/Lecter scenes, which are exceedingly well-written (by Lambs scribe Ted Tally) and full of hammy, play-to-the-groundlings gusto and which clearly tickled the test-screening audience. While there will be a few who deride Hopkins for playing up the more cartoony affectations of his Hannibal performance this time around, he's undeniably fun to watch. (Full disclosure: I have a profound weakness for over-the-top performances ... particularly those in the Shatner/Heston/Dunaway vein ... so take my praises with an over-the-top grain of salt.) Particularly enjoyed the tics that fluttered across Hopkins' face when Graham told Hannibal he was insane; it was as if that were the first time it had occurred to the Cannibal.
(4) The light stylistic and casting nods to both Silence and Manhunter that you'll find peppered throughout the film. Say ... there's Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison reprising their roles as Chilton and Barney! Say ... that tracking shot of Dolarhyde walking through the film-processing plant looks just like the one in Manhunter! Say ... Hopkins is looking right into the camera again!
(5) Silence of the Lambs fans will probably agree that there are two kinds of horror ... the shocking kind and the unsettling kind ... and the reason Lambs works so well is because it's that rare horror film that manages to combine both types in one movie. That's also true, though admittedly to a lesser and less-urgent degree, in Red Dragon; the crime scenes here are actually pretty unnerving ... I'm thinking particularly of one shot when Norton turns on the lights to reveal a stale crime scene spattered with Pollack-like arcs of blood and the flash-cuts of soulless, mirrored eye sockets.
What's not so good?
(1) To riff a little further on point (4) above, the fact that Ratner freely snatches cinematic quotes from the other Lecter films makes you wonder if the director will ever develop a visual style of his own. Make no mistake, there's an extreme competence to the storytelling here, but the film never soars to any stunning visual or thematic heights of its own. As mentioned above, this is sort of a blessing and a curse ... a blessing because the story gets seamlessly told, a curse because there's a certain lack of showmanship that hard-core cineastes will miss.
(2) There are several things, let's face it, that Manhunter did better. I'm thinking specifically of three things: (a) depicting the toll the case takes on Will Graham's marriage; (b) depicting the sense of urgency as the FBI agents race against time (there was a lot more running, if memory serves, in Manhunter, and it's missed in the new film, which feels about as "urgent" as a good episode of "CSI"); and (c) Stephen Lang's performance as Freddie Lounds, which (and I'm shocked to be writing this) had a lot more meat to it than Hoffman's performance. (I'll be very interested to see if there are any additional Hoffman-as-Lounds scenes on the Red Dragon DVD.)
(3) Norton actually plays it a little too straight as Graham. There were some screwed-up depths (hinted at in the film's opening scenes) that could have been plumbed.
(4) Sadly, like Manhunter, Red Dragon takes a few (but not as many) liberties with the book's fabulous, merciless, painful-to-read ending. At the risk of courting some serious SPOILERS, Thomas Harris' novel ends with the case having more or less destroyed its investigator; he's barely spoken of, dismissed as a disfigured drunk, in the next book ... a hollow husk referred to in the hushed and horrified tones one reserves for discussing the demolition of the truly talented. (On a side note, I will never forgive Harris for failing to re-visit the Graham character in Hannibal, which I appreciate as a beautifully written gothic-horror romance but despise as a police procedural. Also, while Hannibal is admittedly kind of weak, Red Dragon never hits the goony, there's no-going-back heights of that brain-eating climax.)
(5) The music's kind of overblown. The opening credits feel way too much like Dead Again as a result.
Summary of findings?
It's queasy fun, but it ain't Art. So what? I break from the critical pack in that I can actually still be entertained.
Any "fun links" and/or shameless pimps of your friends or other whorelike backscratching this time around?
(1) It's my pleasure to inform you that the latest print issue of BadAzzMofo ... written and produced by my trenchant and talented colleague Dave Walker ... is finally available for purchase.
If you're not a BadAzzMofo reader, you should be: Walker is arguably one of the most knowledgeable blaxploitation experts on the planet, but he's not afraid to point out (in withering, hilarious prose) their copious flaws. He actually wrote an introductory clause in one of his reviews that made me spit gin harder than just about anything I've ever read, and I will now repeat that clause here: "Mario Van Peebles, who once took a shit and called it Panther...." The latest issue also features a stylish and nasty full-length blaxploitation comic authored by Walker. Order it from your local comics retailer or 'zine shop.
... Alexandra DuPont
As always, thanks to the lovely and elusive Ms. DuPont. Herc’s going to be red with jealousy that I got hold of the review first.
Next up, we’ve got The Will Of Crom, and as anyone who’s seen CONAN knows, you do NOT oppose The Will Of Crom!!
It is midnight on the east coast and after about 3 hours of processing I figured it was worth firing off a Red Dragon piece after seeing an preview screening my university ran (Go Hokies!).
Interesting exercise to say the least. Better than Hannibal (which I enjoyed for the twisted love story it was- a man in love with a woman that will never love him back), but not quite approaching Silence of the Lambs. I figure a systematic approach will work best (and prevent spoilers).
Bret Ratner: Amazingly, I think he is more important a topic here than Mr. Hopkins as his presence is the least likely (or least desired) presence in the movie. Sufficed to say, it's obvious he has some better chops than we believed. He has avoided judicious editing and cheap camera tricks. He composes his frames smartly and doesn't try to make a very somber and creepy film flashy. He sometimes relies too much on close-ups to convey messages but that is more indicative of current Hollywood than himself. Dante Spinotti's cinematography is marvelous and I think he may have had either a calming or maturing affect of Ratner's work. Either way, Ratner should work with him again as he has a profoundly good affect on his work.
Anthony Hopkins: They figured out the one thing that most of us got that the terror and horror of Hannibal Lecter is that fear of knowing what he is capable of and getting some- but not much- peace of mind that he is locked up. Hannibal was fun to see him running around free, but it lost the luster of seeing a deadly animal caged and wondering what would happen if he was free. I cannot still say whether that was lost because of Hannibal- that showing him free robbed us of the thrill of seeing him in polite society and hiding stealthily among people in Red Dragon's prologue. He handles himself well and demonstrates the upper-class elitism that is the anchor of his character. He thinks himself better, carries himself as better, and thus projects the air of superiority which allows him to suspend morality and do what he does. That said, after the prologue, I have beef- whether it is with Ted Tally's script, or Hopkins himself, I am unsure. I kept feeling as I watched that someone was trying to shoehorn Lecter into the movie. That his presence instead of a thrust for the story was more for the fact that "Hey look! We have Hannibal Lecter in the movie!". Only two things provided me genuine interest when Lecter was present and that was his banter with Will Graham (Ed Norton) about the case, and subtle winks at what was to come in regards to his behavior and what their end results would be (things played on in Silence and Hannibal). That said...I think Anthony phoned in half of this performance. If there is one weak link in the film, it's him, sadly. I think we got spoiled on too much of a good thing. Putting Lecter back in the cell and caging him restores vitality, but I just get the sensation that Hannibal- while fun in some respects- ruined a fundamental mystique of the character that cannot be regained and causes some chafing during Red Dragon
Ed Norton - someone on the AICN said it, and I agree at some points, that Ed just looks too young. I can concede that, but I provide the counter argument of - LOOK AT HIS EYES. Ed carries a degree of weight and sorrow in his eyes throughout much of the movie that conveyed his world-weariness more than lines on his face. He has three "Holy Shit" moments in the movie where he totally sells you and hard and you just sit there flabbergasted or just with a smile knowing you've seen something great. Especially in the final scene which I shall save till the end for comment due to spoilers.
Ralph Fiennes - Great as Francis. I will admit hear that contrary to most people, I disliked Manhunter. I felt it was a Miami Vice episode but darker and with a serial killer. To me the lure of the novel was always the conflict between the almost supernatural talent Will Graham has in seeing crimes and the mystical nature surrounding Francis Dolarhyde and the painting. When that was jettisoned in favor of a more linear story, it gained some parts but lost others- specifically the battle in Francis. Without the painting, the conflict, and the tattoo's he becomes far more ordinary and he is anything but. He is a brutally scarred and hurt boy who really never grew out of the pain and abuse he felt and is grasping at something- anything- to make him feel like a man. Fiennes does a phenomenal job combining the quivering child, and the brutal monster that child's fear created in Francis. He carries a mournful look and that is a stronger choice- to me- than just making Francis the Terminator. That said, I find that physically, Fiennes somewhat fails. Not that he does not look the part facially, but that body-wise, he falls short. In Manhunter, Tom Noonan gave a unique look to Francis Dolarhyde because of his tall, lanky frame and very unique face. Fiennes does the same to the face, but he is not nearly as tall. And not nearly as built as characters descriptions of him imply. Francis is supposed to be strong and very built muscularly, but Fiennes simply looks fit. Trim, nothing more. His arms nor physique imply nothing more than someone who jogs and does some pec flyes on occasion. Something that was apparent every time the marvelous tattoo job was shown off. Great tattoo, on a rather ho-hum physique diminished it. Simply put, it failed the character to be physically mediocre. Small gripe, the acting was there however in spades. Thanks to some help by
Emily Watson: My God, if anyone steals this movie for me, it is her. She does a magnificent job showing a woman who wants to be more than the "cripple" people see her as. She is a sexual woman, not trashy, but a woman with sexual desires and it kills her that the men around her only see her as a pity fuck at best. When Francis says "I have no pity", the audience laughs, but she hears it as the call of someone who has known pity and despises it as well. She can tell Francis had a speech impediment and believes him to be a physical oddity or a freak like herself. She just horribly miscalculates the degree his freakishness goes. Her presence and actions provide a physical tether for the last vestiges of Dolarhyde's human and fragile side to adhere to. She elevates the tragic nature of Fiennes' performance and deserves SERIOUS kudos for the work
The End Game: So, with all that said, how do the parts add up? To a surprisingly good and fun piece of work. As I watched the movie and I digested it afterwards, I realized that it is a good piece of above pulp-film level suspense. In that, it is better than a trashy mystery but not quite great art. And upon further inspection, I am starting to look at Silence of the Lambs in this manner- it was not the great film we thought it to be, but a well crafted piece of above average pulp-mystery that caught us off guard. I think to properly enjoy Hannibal and Red Dragon, we might need to step back from the pedestal Silence is on so we can enjoy it for what it is- a journey with a madman and the people he meets. The notion that Silence is so incredibly detracts from it at a point. It's greatest creation was in giving us a fully functioning, witty, clever, sophisticated and urbane serial killer/sociopath. That was it's unique creation, and it caught us off guard. Most likely, Hannibal Lecter was never meant to be more than a MacGuffin - something to propel the story forward without compromising too much internal logic. Just something to chew on.
Now for the spoilers. I disagree with the claim that the ending of Red Dragon is too much like a slasher film where the killer comes back from the dead one too many times. It was in the book, but I suppose it's no excuse for what could be seen as sloppy or convenient writing. But it serves a very specific purpose. That is the connection that Will Graham makes in those final moments with Francis Dolarhyde. He has spent his life understanding what killers were thinking and feeling in the heat of the moment during a crime. Their motivation. He was never given a doorway into those actions- the things that DROVE them to want what they did as they committed a crime. When he gets to read the diary of Francis, he is given a perspective he never possessed. When he dealt with Hannibal,he could always assume that Hannibal was simply insane. That only an insane man could perform such acts. But with Dolarhyde, he is confronted with the fact that this was a monster created, not born. And this is in conflict to everything he has felt about Dolarhyde and most likely every killer he has tracked. When he has to use that knowledge to save his son, it requires an act, and a way of thinking that compromises him and puts him in a place that only the killer has. He is no longer an observer but a participant and THAT to me is the crux of the scene and the importance of what takes place.
Plus, and this is a personal thing- It amuses me that the one to give the death blow to Francis is Will's wife. Ultimately, the mother protects the house, not the father. Have fun with that one Moriarity, heh heh heh.
Go, enjoy the film and don't try to make it Silence of the Lambs, it's not.
The Will Of Crom
Adam from Zboneman.com is next up this morning with what he describes as an “informative” review. Let’s see if we agree...
This is Adam from Zboneman.com. I hope all is well. I loved your reports from the set of Kill Bill. I just got out of a screening of Red Dragon, and while I'm sure you've already been flooded with reviews, I thought I send you one anyway. Here it is.
Hannibal Lecter is back for the third time, or fourth if you've seen the previous adaptation of this same book, Michael Mann's under appreciated Manhunter. The truth is, I haven't read the Thomas Harris novel, but I have seen both movies, and I'm going to attempt to analyze some of the differences.
Lecter is more of a supporting character in this prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Red Dragon's focal point is Will Graham (Edward Norton), an FBI agent whose big claim to fame was catching the infamous Lecter. Graham is now involved in a horrific case that involves a twisted murderer (Ralph Fiennes) who corresponds with a locked-up Hannibal. Graham's talents prove to be unmatched as he has an uncanny ability to piece together homicides and determine motivation by simply observing the sight of the murder.
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Red Dragon is director Brett Ratner. I never would have guessed that the maker of Family Man and the Rush Hour movies would be capable of this. But then, that's probably the whole point. Ratner isn't interested in being pigeon holed to a specific genre. His take on Red Dragon is reportedly more faithful to the novel, but Ratner doesn't seem quite as confident as Michael Mann. Manhunter has a distinct feel from beginning to end. It's more of a gritty crime thriller while Ratner tries to go for a darker tone, putting Red Dragon in the same sort of league as it's two film sequels. This isn't to say that Ratner isn't talented. This movie has some striking images and a sick and twisted sense of humor, but there are moments that aren't quite up to snuff. For instance, the first scene in which Graham is investigating a murder sight, doesn't quite come across as intense as it should be, whereas Mann has a mightier grip on the audience. In Manhunter, there's more of an emphasis on Graham's talent, making the character all the more intriguing. Still Red Dragon is an accomplished work for Ratner.
I think much of what does work here should also be credited to screenwriter Ted Tally (who also adapted Silence of the Lambs). He seems to be keen on deepening many of this picture's characterizations, most notably madman Francis Dolarhyde and blind beauty Reba McClane. Red Dragon also feels moodier then Manhunter. Tally's biggest contribution, however, is the extension of Lecter's character. He's fully aware that this is a big part of the draw, but he also has the good sense to know that Red Dragon isn't about Lecter. Thankfully, Hannibal is perfectly utilized in this film. I also like some of the liberties that Tally has taken from the original source. He actually improves upon some elements of the story. The opening moments of Red Dragon (including Lecter's capture) are very effective and his touch of humor is very welcome. Also, his added final scene serves as an amusing link to Silence of the Lambs. Michael Mann's screenplay for Manhunter was certainly interesting, but let's face it. That movie was more about visual style, and Mann the director definitely supplied that.
I'd also like to mention Danny Eflman's score which will certainly be discussed amongst music fans everywhere. While I enjoyed this obvious homage to the works of Bernard Herrman, I found it to be intrusive at times. There is one moment in particular in which the score didn't add to the scene, it pretty much dictated it. For the most part, however, this is one of Elfman's better scores in quite some time.
The performances in Red Dragon range from decent to impressive. Norton never quite finds his footing as Graham. Don't get me wrong, I think this guy is a fabulous actor, but I never really bought him in this role. William Petersen fared much better, bringing a more fierce take on Graham. Norton by contrast, seems a little too wide eyed, and squeamish. While it could be argued that this makes the character more human, I prefer Petersen's darker, less vulnerable spin on the role.
Feinnes is fantastic as Francis, lending creepiness and genuine sympathy to this disturbed individual. Tom Noonan was equally effective in Manhunter, but he had a creepy look to begin with, making is seem like an easier transformation. Fiennes is extremely talented but quite often he's labeled a pretty boy. Here, he's dug deep to bring this severely scarred man to life. It also helps that Tally and Ratner have added more background so that the audience has more information into how this guy has become who he is.
Emily Watson is superb as Reba, a blind woman who finds herself drawn to Francis. Her blank stare is extremely effective, but it is her sense of vulnerability that makes the character really believable. Joan Allen was also fantastic in Manhunter, making both actresses near perfect in the role. I'd be hard pressed to pick one over the other, although Watson is allowed to develop more thanks to lengthier screen time.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is a riot as sleazy tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds. His eccentricities make him stand out. Stephen Lang plays the role in Manhunter and as crazy as he usually is, he seemed to be holding back a bit. Hoffman is so interesting as a performer, that his rather tiny role becomes memorable.
And of course we have the dependable Anthony Hopkins, once again slipping into the role of one of the screen's most beloved maniacs, the suave and intellectual Hannibal Lecter. While Lecter is a mere supporting player in Red Dragon, Hopkins' bigger than life portrayal of this sometimes hilarious and always chilling character makes it appear that he has more screen time than he actually does. Brian Cox played Hannibal in Manhunter but he was a lot more low key. Of course, he really wasn't in the film as much so there was very little opportunity for him to shine. He has since gone on the give terrific performances in many other films. The fact that Hopkins has made this character his own, is a big reason that this movie was made at all.
The previous mentioned are the most noteworthy of the performances although there are other big names in Red Dragon that don't really stand out. Harvey Keitel shows up as Jack Crawford (a role played by Dennis Farina in Manhunter and Scott Glenn in Silence of the Lambs). While there's nothing particularly wrong with him, he just seems to be coasting through this. It isn't really a relevant character. The worst turn comes from Mary-Louise Parker as Graham's wife Molly (played by Kim Greist in Manhunter). I didn't find her convincing at all which is disappointing because she is a talented actress.
Red Dragon is a solid movie. It's very well put together and works in a satisfying way. Certainly, Ratner proves that he is capable of much more then obvious, buddy comedies (even if it does look like Rush Hour 3 will probably be his next film). As for this apparent Superman movie, I can only hope that it won¹t be as bad as the screenplay that Moriarty got his hands on, suggests. The idea of anyone re-imagining Superman makes me want to cringe. Still, I look forward to Ratner taking more chances like this.
As for which I like better, Manhunter or Red Dragon, I choose both. I mean it's like comparing apples and oranges. Which version of The Thing is best? Hawkes' or Carpenter's? Which version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is best? Siegel's or Kaufman's. In the case of Manhunter and Red Dragon, I think their both terrific films for different reasons. Go check them both out.
P.S. Butt-Numb-A-Thon 4 is going to kick ass!
He’s right about Butt-Numb-A-Thon 4. The plans for this year continue apace, and I think it’s going to be a wild ride for all those fortunate enough to attend. Someone was crying about Harry’s “Willy Wonka” tactics the other day, and this year, more than ever, that comparison seems apt.
As far as Ratner and SUPERMAN are concerned, I had my say. Anyone who wants to know what I thought of the draft I read can still find my review right here. Pleast take note, though, that I have always said it was a reaction to a draft. That specific draft. The end of the review is me urging all involved to do better, to make something worth seeing. There’s a long way to go until the film shoots, so anyone drawing lines in the sand right now is jumping the gun a bit. We wanted to send a message to Warner Bros., right? Well, message sent. Everything that’s happened since proves one thing: Warner Bros. heard the overwhelming roar of disapproval from fandom, and they are reacting. How they react is still to be seen. I know this much... Ratner’s got a job ahead of him that I don’t envy anyone, and he’s going to have to rise to the occasion and be a better filmmaker than he’s ever been before if he wants to make something truly epic and inspiring.
I think that, more than anything, people are curious to see what Ratner’s done here to see if there’s any sign of what it’s going to take to get that job done. Here’s Ohtar with his take on things:
Just got back from a screening of Red Dragon and I thought I’d send you my review. I’ll try not to hit on anything that has been covered extensively in previous reviews. The theatre I saw it in ran the new TTT preview (did you know it had the Requiem for a Dream theme in it? I kid.) I’ve never seen an audience respond to a trailer like that before. The second Legolas and Aragorn appeared the place went nuts – and then real quiet so everything could be heard. At the end there was a 5 sec silence and then the applause and cheering lasted far into the next preview. We’re living in some incredible times boys and girls. Anyway… I went into Red Dragon with a lot of dread and a little hope. Dread of self-parody and franchise cashing in. Dread that the lines of the book would be stumbled over and that the elements of the plot would be trimmed so far as to lose their finesse. Hope that the best of these would be preserved, and the remainder would be handled professionally. I got both. I’m going to be writing as a fan of the book who’s comparing film to novel but I’m making an effort to be impartial and rate the film on film terms.
Non Spoiler Review
Red Dragon is a taut and well acted thriller, full of good acting and well executed suspense. If you want to see it only for Hannibal you may be disappointed – he only has five or six scenes and is not a central character. Hopkins still has that sly Hannibal charm that you have to love but he tends to play his scenes a little more angry and physical (I read that this is to communicate that he’s upset at being caught). He also tends to roll his words out of his mouth with more languid ferocity than you may be used to. Is this self parody or an interpretation of character? He is still very much Hannibal though and hard to really dislike. As Will Grahm Edward Norton does an adequate job. It’s nothing that will be praised highly but he’s in there, he’s professional and he looks haggard. I believed his character all the way through but it’s not flashy. I wish I could say more. Norton is one of my favorite actors but there is not a whole lot to do with what he’s been given; the fear that he is also a monster like those he’s trying to hunt down is touched on in one early scene, but is never given a place at center stage. He’s the good guy who is getting burned out dealing with all these insane people and trying to get into their heads. The real jewel in this movie is Ralph Fienes. He nails the duality of Dolarhyde and makes you feel real pity and real fear. There’s not a moment in the movie when I didn’t totally believe him. The expression on his face in his moments of reluctance and domination are enough to convince you completely. His performance makes Red Dragon into a very good movie when it could have been a better than average one. As for the rest, the supporting cast punches in and punches out, even Keitel is just there as part of the background and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lounds doesn’t quite play it slimy enough to make you think he’s really trying hard. The action set pieces are visceral and tense, and the set design is exactly what it needs to be. As a scary movie it succeeds. Often movies aren’t scary anymore; because there’s only so many ways to have a guy in the house with a knife, but Red Dragon has a few tricks that will remind you that sometimes movies can be original (even if they are based on a book). You will get chills, you will gasp and you will see a few things you’ve never seen before. Bottom line: see the movie, it’s worth your time but it won’t fulfill all your fantasies.
A Few Thoughts
To Fans of Manhunter: if you're boycotting this flick I can see why. Red Dragon would doubtless never have been made if it weren't for the success of Silence of the Lambs and to a lesser degree Hannibal (by the way why do people hate it so much? I've seen much worse movies in my day.) There are many similarities between Manhunter and Red Dragon - during a few parts I had to shake my head to remind myself that it wasn't a William Petersen as Grahm saying in the same intonation : "didn't you you son of a bitch" And of course there's no way anybody could top Mann's incredible visuals. Still although I enjoy Brian Cox, Hopkins is Lecter and there's just too much association to break. Anyway can't we all get along? The two were made from the same source material, just different interpretations; Manhunter focused on the cop, Red Dragon focuses on the bad guy.
To Thomas Harris Fans: Well this is a more faithfull interpretation than Manhunter certainly, but the thing that still gets to me is the end. In the book Harris completely fooled me. i was sinking nicely into the denoument, really thinking that everything was going to be allright. And all of a sudden there was Dollarhyde not dead at all and trying to kill a family again. Wouldn't it have been great if the movie could accomplish the same thing? That's why I wanted to see it in the first place. Imagine it: two minutes before the end if the movie, the audience is relaxing, yeah we've seen this before, this is how all these movies end, and then bang Dollarhyde is right there with a knife. Oh well they got a lot more right. In one early scene Grahm walks into the victim's house, closes the door, closes his eyes and then when he opens them, he's put on his serial killer persona. Right there I knew this would be good. Just with a look Norton communicates a shift of mind into that of a maniac. he looks around. cool as hell abd knowing that all the little lives in the house belong to him. Other than the ending and the gradual phasing out of Grahm's dark side worries, I can't think of a single glaring ommision in the storyline. The story works well, and it;s a long movie so you feel time passing. Harris fans should be excited to see this I think, but you probably don't need me to tell you.
Call Me Ohtar
This next guy’s got the single filthiest nickname goin’, so I’ll let him introduce himself:
Been a fan of your site for a long time. Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the free screening of RED DRAGON at UW-Madison. Since I have been a big fan of both Silence and Hannibal, I was excited, yet somewhat nervous. I had no confidence in Brett Ratner since I have never really seen direct anything as serious a subject matter as this. I'm glad to see I was pleasantly surprised. Of course the film opens up with Hannibal, as we all expected it to. By now, Hannibal has become almost a Pepsi-like advertisement, like those horrible quotes from Jerry Maguire that you've become all too used to. Anthony Hopkins does put up a strong performance and he should be commended for having been able to be a proper Hannibal for all three movies. The greatest performance goes to Ralph Fiennes by far hoever. His Dollarhyde made me shiver just thinking about him. Even his sidestory with Emily Watson was well-orchestrated where it didn't make you sympathize with Dollarhyde too much, yet at the same time almost made you wish things could have been different with him. All in all.............this is a movie to go see, right NOW.
Just call me Dirty Sanchez
This next reviewer calls himself Dude On The Lamb. He’s got his own opinion, though, and ain’t no sheep...
You've probably gotten a shit load of reviews for 'Red Dragon' that it's probably making you sick to your stomach. Well I'm here to add to the indigestion so to speak....
I saw 'Red Dragon' tonight with roughly 750+ individuals and they were a rowdy bunch of people whom I've guessed haven't seen anything by Hitchcock or any of the greats. I should also start out by saying I don't recall ever watching 'Silence of the Lambs' and I haven't seen 'Hannibal' (because I think Scott is a better Art Director than Movie Director) so I'm a newbie to this whole entire Hannibal series. And boy was I a bit disappointed, don't get me wrong, there were some powerful moments between Ed Norton's character and Hannibal. But more often than not, those moments were ruined by moments of laughter from the audience that, from what I could tell was intended. I thought this movie was a thriller not a comedy. And Ralph Fiennes' character Red Dragon was played very well, very, very well. I loved the whole struggle between being this killer and wanting to be good a disease caused by Emily Watson's blind character who's a bit odd (fondling *spoiler* tiger nuts is a no no in my book *end spoiler*).
The opening scene of the film was superb and so was the ending, spectacular moments in film, simply the best. But what gets to me is that it wasn't scary, I didn't jump not once throughout the film. My female friends refused to watch the movie with me because they thought they'd be too afraid afterwards (granted 'The Sixth Sense' scared them). I never found Hannibal to be a threat at all, and Red Dragon (although a decent enemy) never really seemed like much of a threat until the very last few scenes in the movie. Let me reiterate this one point again, this movie (I stupidly thought) was supposed to be a thriller and not a comedy. I think Brett Ratner could possibly pull this material off if he would have realized that there were too many "witty" moments in the film which offsets the "thriller" portion a bit. I mean there is a moment in the film where you know this character is going to die, but by what means, at what point, why are all the questions that come into mind. And as the character is tortured the audience laughs at his facial expression instead of being terrorized about the events to come....that bothers me to no end.
Other than those minor grievances that I have, the film was good. It makes me interested in taking a look at the other films to see the evolution of Hannibal Lecter. On a side note, they did a fantastic job at making Anthony Hopkins look much, much younger than he actually really looks.
Dude on the Lamb
They’re showing this to a lot of college students, seems like. Here’s one who’s written in before:
This is spectrumefp. I wrote to you a while ago about John Singleton’s possible future projects, which of course turned out to be wrong (“Fast and the Furious 2” seemed to come out of nowhere, didn’t it?) Anyway, I and 490 other UGA students had the pleasure of seeing a sneak preview of “Red Dragon.” Considering it opens nationwide in four days, I’m presuming this was a final print. Before I get into my review I feel I should give you my opinions on the previous Harris adaptations and Brett Ratner.
I am not a big fan of “Silence of the Lambs.” It is a very effective thriller and I like it, but I feel it is way overrated. But, hey, any movie that puts Ted Levine to good use is all right by me. As for Hannibal, well… Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors (“Black Hawk Down” is a technical masterpiece), but “Hannibal” totally blew. It was all style and no substance. Ridley disappointed me big time. I haven’t seen “Manhunter,” and I’m sure my review of “Red Dragon” would be different if I had.
As for Ratner, I - like the rest of the world - said, “What the fuck?!?!?!” when it was announced he would direct “Red Dragon.” I laughed for a minute, thought it was a joke, then realized it was real and screamed again. How does someone go from “Money Talks” to “Red Dragon”? “Rush Hour” was funny, “The Family Man” was (to quote Jack Black) “sentimental, tacky crap,” and “Rush Hour 2” was horrible. Chris Tucker never shut the fuck up, and they used blue screen on Jackie!!! Ratner deserved to burn in hell for that. With that in mind I walked into “Red Dragon” with low expectations.
There were two groups of people concerning “Red Dragon”: those who wanted to see Ratner succeed, proving he can do better, and those who wanted to see him fail and return to the crap he does best. As you can probably tell I was part of the latter. After tonight, well, my opinion has changed. Ratner has succeeded.
“Red Dragon” is by no means a perfect film. It adheres to many of the standard suspense movie clichÃ©s, most notably giving one of the characters a physical impairment, which of course will be used prominently (see also “Diabolique,” “Signs,” etc.) and my personal candidate for most annoying clichÃ©: having a long take filled with silence then all of a sudden the screen flashes with horrible imagery and a musical note blares from the speakers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll know it when it happens. I could name some other ones, but that would spoil things. Otherwise, the film is pretty solid.
Acting wise this is the Norton/Fiennes show. They are on the screen the most and sadly, everyone else has just a glorified cameo. The film is basically about the lives of Graham and Dolarhyde, and everyone else in the movie just happens to be a part of theirs. Anthony Hopkins is great (as usual) as Hannibal, and Emily Watson is adorable as the blind girl who comes into Dolarhyde’s life. Norton is good in his role, yet he seems to be a bit wussy for the role. Like I said, I haven’t seen “Manhunter,” but I’m sure William Peterson was much more commanding. On the other hand, Ralph Fiennes was, to put it bluntly, fucking amazing. He owns the movie. If he does not get an Oscar nomination for this I will continue my ongoing ritual of asking the Academy where they get their crack. Fiennes is truly terrifying. This may be his best role to date.
The film is nicely paced, if a little slow in the beginning. Overall, this is a solid movie. Then again, with people like Ted Tally, Dante Spinotti, and the amazing cast all working at their best it was kind of hard for Ratner to fuck up (I’m using that as an excuse, this movie may turn out to be a fluke). Now all we have to do is wait and see what he does with the Superman franchise.
***1/2 out of ****
El Tamburo is another college student, and he seems to be a big damn fan of what he saw:
I have worshiped your site since the dawn of time and now i feel priviliged to actually send you something of substance. Tonight, 300 students of Vanderbilt University were treated to an advance screening of "Red Dragon." I was one of those lucky souls, and let me tell you:
This movie is gonna be big.
I mean real big. The rumors that you have heard about this movie being the real deal are true. I think we are going to realize the first ever October release to reach the 200 million dollar plateau. But, maybe instead of predicting the monitary future of this film (which I am sure Universal has done), allow me to actually comment on the film.
Everybody knows the story and everybody is familiar with the characters. Let me just say that the cast on the screen is even more impressive than it looks on paper. Everytime Sir Anthony is on the screen, I get chills down my spine; they are mulitplied ten fold when he is interacting with Will Graham(Ed Norton). Ted Tally does just as great a job with this movie as he did with Silence of the Lambs. Now, granted, he probably won't receive quite the same accolades that he did 11 years ago, but he keeps the tension high. The dialogue is great, and all of the actors are just pitch perfect. (Special Honorable Mention to the lovely Emily Watson, I can't wait for Punch-Drunk Love!)
Of course, the big quesiton going into this movie was the ability of Brett Ratner. He's famous for the Rush Hour's and in my opinion flopped with The Family Man. But, Superman fans fear not, Brett has matured. He creates a stunning visual pallet, uses the camera in a marvelous way and gets nothing but the best out of all of his actors. He keeps the tension level high, but is also able to make the audience chuckle just a bit. (Although a few of the chuckles are very...dare I say...Hannibal-esque) I just can't say enough about the job that Ratner does. Rattner's work in Red Dragon makes the Hannibal Lector series much, much stronger. In my mind, this movie kicks the ass of both Ridley Scott's "Hannibal" and Michael Mann's "Manhunter." Nothing will ever be as good as SOTL, but Rattner does come close. Seeing Red Dragon actually makes me excited to see Superman, even with all of the crap that is in the script.
Man, oh man, Harry this is one hell of a fun movie. I can't wait to see it again.
For the sake of anonimity, call me El Tamburo
Fabfunk sent us what he (probably accurately) called the “MILLIONTH” review of RED DRAGON, and here it is:
I know you've received about a million RED DRAGON reviews, and I am chiming in with one more.
What I've noticed is that most early reviews have praised the flick. The truth is, it's been designed to be a real crowd pleaser, to put butts in seats, and aside from a few creepy scenes, its less cerebral than SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and less perverse than HANNIBAL. It's perfect for the slow-witted, gore loving American public.
RED DRAGON is garbage. Pure genre garbage. Its got several bloody jolts, a few limp gags, a goofy villain and a problem with tone. Its got several visceral, aesthetic pleasures, but is instantly forgettable. Not nearly as intelligent or frightening as SILENCE or as funny as HANNIBAL, DRAGON is a goofball flick with nowhere to go.
I hate to take another shot at aintitcool's thrird fave punching bag the past few weeks (1. JJ Abrams, 2. Jon Peters), but Brett Ratner's direction is uninspired. He possesses neither a deft touch with actors that Johnathan Demme does, nor does he possess the ornate skill of enhancing detail like Ridley Scott. In this flick, his shortcomings are magnified to the nth degree. he is poor with transition shots, he has shit skill in showing time passing. Not to compare again, but its a noted observation in how he shoots the many killings. While Demme made sure to hide some of the murders, displaying victims in artistic fashion, Scott enjoyed embellishing the deaths, shoving them in our face, acknowledging our perverse thrill in seeing gore. Ratner displays no such talent. His killings are lackadasically thrown about, messy squibs and all. It is a perfect example of his artless, messy direction.
RED DRAGON does, in some parts, come alive. The scenes with Ralph Finnes and Emily Watson are fantastic, and ever so uncomfortably romantic. And Anthony Hopkins is at his campy best. But otherwise, RED DRAGON is certainly worth skipping.
I am fabfunk, and I have spoken.