The Doctor is in. Or rather back. As Hannibal opens, Agent Clarice Starling is still haunted by the memory of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Lecter is far away, in Florence, Italy, however, assuming the identity of a museum and library curator. An ambitious, and greedy, Italian police detective discovers his true identity and decides to turn Lecter in. However, it's not the FBI he turns to, instead Lecter's only surviving victim, Mason Verger. A wealthy recluse, Verger has been hunting, and perparing for his moment of vengence against Lecter. Starling, meanwhile, is thrown headlong into the case once again, after receiving a letter from Lecter. Her keen instincts allow her to locate Lecter, but not before he decides to return to the US.
Ridley Scott replaces Jonathan Demme in the directors chair, fresh from his success with the Oscar nominated Gladiator. Working from a script written by the novel's author Thomas Harris (and polished by David Mamet), Scott creates a different atmosphere that the dark interiors of Silence of the Lambs. Yet the tension remains strong. Scott, who is best known for his incredible style that highlights a showy camerawork, has made instead a straightforward investigative film. Starling, for the most part, is secluded in her basement office, working on the subtle details and minutae that is detective work.
Whereas, Silence was Jodi Foster's picture (Hopkins logs little actual screen time in it), Hannibal is Hopkins film. His point of view is the films. The rest of the cast is workman-like. Julianne Moore has big shoes to fill replacing Foster as Starling, and she does a decent job making the role her own. Ray Liotta is fairly predictable as Starling's Justice Department rival, Paul Krendler. Gary Oldman is Verger, buried under layers of latex and, except for a brief flashback to his first Lecter encounter, completely unidentifiable. In fact, Oldman demanded he be uncredited in the film when the producers failed to give him equal billing to Hopkins and Moore.
As much as I hate to compare the two films, it is virtually impossible, given all the pre-production gossip surrounding the novel's conclusion, Foster's reluctance to participate in the film, and the numerous script revisions. Would Hannibal have been better with Foster and Demme on board? Chances are yes. Simply because as great an actress and Moore can be, she simply fails to capture the innocence and vulnerability that Foster imbued in Starling in the first film. As for Demme, perhaps he could have brought more mystery and suspense to the inevitable violence and gore. Scott, for all his talents, fails in this aspect. Without the darkness and foreboding, the blood and violence is simply shock value. Another failing is the seeming longing of Scott to make us want to sympathize with Lecter. In his world, a vicious, brutal savage is to be forgiven, or at least understood due to his true affection for Starling. This point just doesn't work, and is the prime reason Foster chose not to participate in the project.
On it's own, Hannibal could work, given the performance and aura of Hopkins. But the lingering memories of Silence of the Lambs is as haunting as the character of the cannibal Lecter.
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