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Red Dragon Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/07/2002

I’m not a hardcore fan of the Hannibal Lector movies and I’ve never read any of the Thomas Harris books that the movies are based on.  There are many who are though, and apparently, they thought the first adaptation of the first Hannibal book, Red Dragon, wasn’t adapted well enough in the 1986 movie Manhunter.  Many wanted it to be redone with the original title and starring the man who made the character famous, Anthony Hopkins.  From what I’ve heard from geeks who did read the book, Red Dragon is much more faithful than Manhunter.  As a movie itself, I happened to like Red Dragon better as well.

Red Dragon is the story of FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton.)  He is in retirement and living peacefully with his wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker) and son Josh (Tyler Patrick Jones.)  He decided to retire after almost being killed by a cannibal serial killer named Hannibal Lector (Hopkins.)  His former partner, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), lures Will out of retirement to work on one last case.  Another serial killer named Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy,” has killed two families on a full moon.  He is mentally disturbed and thinks that a William Blake painting is controlling his life.  By their logic, they have until the next full moon before he kills again.  Will needs Hannibal’s help to catch this new killer, so he visits the cannibal in the mental institution where he is being held, run by Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald.)  Little does Will know, as he is helping the agent, he is feeding Dolarhyde information on Will’s family.  A reporter for The Tattler, Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is very curious about Will’s association with Hannibal, which Will, Jack, and fellow agent Lloyd Bowman (Ken Leung) use to their advantage.  They give Freddy false leads in order to try to bait Dolarhyde.  Meanwhile, Dolarhyde starts seeing a blind woman named Reba McClane (Emily Watson), who seems to like him despite his scars.  She thinks she has found a kindred spirit in him, blissfully unaware of his psychotic side.  Can Will find Dolarhyde before he kills Reba, or possibly his family?  Time is running out and the key to finding him seems to lie with Hannibal Lector.

Where does this movie lie in my preferences for Hannibal Lector movies?  It is below Silence of the Lambs but above Hannibal and Manhunter Silence became such a phenomenon, mainly because of the performance of Hopkins.  I never thought Brian Cox as Hannibal in Manhunter was that scary.  Manhunter in general wasn’t that creepy, though it did make me hear Iron Butterfly’s “Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida” differently.  I did like Hannibal better than Manhunter, but it was essentially a horror-slasher movie and not the suspenseful thriller that Silence was.  The same man who wrote the screenplay for Silence wrote Red Dragon’s screenplay, Ted Tally, so I can see why this movie has been accepted more by Thomas Harris fans than Manhunter was.

As a movie itself, it is very good.  Hopkins and Norton are great as usual.  Fiennes digs into a dark place to bring out Dolarhyde, and it is truly creepy.  Keitel is a little underused for an actor of his stature, but he is excellent in his understated role.  I was actually a little concerned about the director, Brett Ratner.  He was the man behind the Rush Hour movies, but I didn't know how he would handle a thriller.  Fortunately, he handled it quite well.

If you liked the book or The Silence of the Lambs, you will like Red Dragon.  It only suffers from the fact that we have become used to the character of Hopkin’s Hannibal Lector for eleven years now, so the impact isn’t the same.  Let’s hope Red Dragon puts to rest the legacy of Hannibal the Cannibal.


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