There hasn’t been in recent film history a character that has captured the imagination of the audience more than Hannibal Lecter. Due to Anthony Hopkins chilling but charming Oscar winning performance of ‘Hannibal the cannibal,’ in 1991’s “The Silence Of The Lambs,” and the subsequent films “Hannibal,” and “Red Dragon.” His dialogue from ‘Lambs,” is legendary. People on the street can’t quote the ‘fava beans,’ statement and most (with a smile on their faces) know the ‘having an old friend for dinner,’ reference verbatim. Let’s face it, we like him and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. We like the diabolical things he does and we revel in his grotesque triumph over the rude. Villains have the best lines in films, the most charisma, and capture something we suppress inside, darkness. Though some may forget this was not Lecter’s first introduction into the consciousness of Pop Culture. He appeared in Michael Mann’s thriller “Manhunter,” (then played by Bryan Cox) in 1986. But it was Hopkins who truly breathed life into this character and made movie buffs squirm in their seats. There were two other installments of Lecter after “Lambs.” “Hannibal,” and a remake of “Manhunter,” this time with Hopkins, “The Red Dragon.” “Dragon,” is the actual title of the book penned by Thomas Harris. So when I heard a prequel to “Dragon,” was in the works I was intrigued. For those who read “Hannibal,” there were hints into Lecter’s childhood and his ‘memory palace,’ as Harris describes the hallows of the killer’s mind. A film of the prequel seemed like an obviously good idea. After all, one isn’t just born as a cannibalistic serial killer. There must be some sort of forming one way or another. Onto “Hannibal Rising.”
I was skeptical about the film. After all, Hopkins is no where to be found. For all intense purposes, he is Hannibal Lecter. There was an intention in the early going of the film that he would be brought in to narrate the story (at least we’d have that chilling emotionless voice) but alas, that fell through. Though this is the story of Lecter’s youth and formidable years, it would have been interesting to bring together the older and the younger aspect of the character. Adding possibly more depth to the story. The good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it is, Thomas Harris himself wrote the screenplay. This can be a double edge sword however. There’s always that insight into the entire project that a screenwriter may not have. That in mind, it can also backfire horribly, maybe too much familiarity, maybe not enough or too much incidental information that doesn’t transfer well onto the screen. There is a huge difference between what works well in a novel and what works well on a movie screen. What fate awaits “Hannibal Rising?” All good things to those who wait….
It is difficult to sit through this film for the simple fact that we are so familiar with Lecter (Hopkins’ Lecter portrayal). We know in his latter years what the character is capable of so nothing really surprised me in regards to the killings and violence, though they were quite imaginative. However, that not withstanding, “Hannibal Rising,” is well worth a look and I did enjoy it. Thomas Harris for the most part stayed true to his novel though some things were left out. That will be no surprise to those who read the book. He did keep out incidental plot lines and characters that would certainly have made a more muddled film. Gaspard Ulliel portrays the young cannibal. You may not be familiar with his work unless your fortay is the French cinema. He is a good choice for the role. He has successfully captured some of Hopkins mannerisms: unwavering stillness and stare. He has said himself in interviews he watched the ‘Lecter’ films over and over and read the novels. His studying for the most part paid off. Li Gong (‘Miami Vice,’ ‘Memoirs Of A Geisha’) portrays Lady Muraski, Hannibal’s Aunt, whom Hannibal seeks out after is escape from the orphanage (which is actually located in his childhood home – Lecter Castle) in Lithuania. He finds her in France where his medical career begins to take fold and his nightmare’s intensify. Their relationship turns somewhat sexual, there is an undeniable attraction between the two, but never quite comes to fruition. Her performance is rather understated and light as a feather. She has a nice touch, strong, defiant, yet delicate. In instances she becomes an unwilling or possibly willing participant in Hannibal’s murderous situations. She understands his motivation and pain to a point. That does however unravel at some point when even she realizes there is no soul behind the façade.
Hannibal opens up his own ‘memory palace’ with the help of drugs to finally uncover his past and tragic death of his little sister, Mishca. This revelation is the catalyst that drives the young lad to brutal cannibalistic murders. The monster has been unleashed as he relentlessly seeks the Nazi war criminals responsible for the butchery of his family. The tag line from the film is “It all started with revenge,” sums it up. The violence and gore of the film though brutal seems within the realm of the character. It is a cat and mouse game in every sense of the word. Taking an insight snippet from the film’s dialogue “Hannibal’s heart died with Mishca,” is all we need to know. Ulliel’s portrayal is void of any emotion except for possibly one pivotal scene towards the end of the film. He has become a sociopath killing machine with a bit of humor through in. Yes, there are a couple of one liner’s that will make you snicker despite yourself. Lecter certainly enjoys his ‘work’ and is quite efficient in his methods. Director Peter Webber did a good job but one must wonder, what would have Jonathan Demme done with his treatment of the script? Or Ridley Scott for that matter. Bottom line: if you are a Hannibal Lecter fan, “Hannibal Rising,” is a must see. It brings the saga and story of the character full circle. The film is not perfect but it is entertaining. If you’re expecting the edge of your seat thriller that “Lambs,” is; you will be disappointed. There is baggage with this film, the absence of Anthony Hopkins.