[Movie Review] Red Dragon

Red DragonStarring: Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel
Director: Brett Ratner
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 2002

I love watching prequels. It’s so much fun watching “Star Wars Episode II” and knowing that Luke’s dad takes a trip to the darkside in future movies. Eh…in “The Amityville Horror Part II”, we see the possession and mass-murder that led to the haunted house portrayed in the first movie. True story, apparently.

“Red Dragon” is such a prequel. Except it’s not. To the uninitiated it is a prequel to the 1991 Oscar winner “Silence of the Lambs”. But for those who trawl through the back catalogue of their local video store, they will probably know that it is a remake of Michael Mann’s 1986 sleeper, “Manhunter”. So to some it will be a brand new experience and to others it’ll be case of ‘been there, rented the video’. Anyway…

FBI agent Will Graham (Norton – “Fight Club”, “Primal Fear”, “American History X”) is on the track of a serial killer with the help of criminal psychologist, Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins – “Bad Company”, “Hannibal”, “Meet Joe Black”, “M:I-2”). But a penny drops and Graham realises that the killer is actually Lecter himself. He captures him but not before the doctor puts a stilletto in his gut. Lecter is jailed and Graham retires.

Roll forward a few years and a new series of grisly murders are stumping the police. FBI Chief Jack Crawford (Keitel – “Mean Streets”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Reservoir Dogs”) pursuades Graham to help them solve the case. Of course Graham can’t do it all by himself and so he must go and see Lecter in order to get some assistance. Needless to say there is a bit of tension between the pair and a cat and mouse game begins between Lecter, Graham and the murderer himself, nicknamed ‘The Tooth Fairy’.

I haven’t seen “Manhunter” so comparisons are out the window. But while I presume the well-received “Manhunter” worked very well, “Red Dragon” simply doesn’t. When “LA Takedown” got ported from TV and became “Heat” in 1995, it was presumed that it would have been overhauled to suit the big budget, the big stars and the big screen. It wasn’t, and it suffered as a result.

“Red Dragon” encounters a similar fate. The script is at times pitiful. The banal dialogue that flows (stutters?) between Graham and Crawford is unconvincing. Crawford comes to see Graham at his retirement home on the beach, and to paraphrase, we endure a scene of: ‘why me?’; ‘because you’re the best’…blah blah blah. Norton, versatile and intriguing as an actor, is left with a cardboard cut out character that he can do very little with. There’s no personality or humour and when he does inject some during a later scene with Emily Watson, it’s a sign of what could have been.

The story is not that bad, but the bad guy is – in more ways than one. It doesn’t take long after the cast list rolls to guess who plays ‘The Tooth Fairy’. A hugely disturbed and troubled character needs a suitable actor. It’s the fulcrum of the whole picture, and it just doesn’t work.

Brett Ratner was a surprise chocie for director. With credits that include the “Rush Hour” movies (with a third one to come) and the 2000 minor hit “The Family Man”. While he doesn’t hang about, getting us into the thick of things within minutes, he must take responsibility for the seeming absurdity of much of the movie. Maybe it takes itself a bit too seriously, maybe it’s just not loose enough. I don’t know. It’s disappointing though.

I’m not going to moan about everything. Emily Watson (“Breaking the Waves”, “Gosford Park”) does a decent job in a limited but demanding role as a blind love-interest for our villain, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman (“The Talented Mr Ripley”, “Almost Famous”, “State and Main”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Magnolia”) is fast becoming one of Hollywoods most entertaining supporting characters.

“Red Dragon” is watchable but I think I’ll check out “Manhunter” and see where they went wrong.


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