The continuing saga of Hannibal Lecter, the murdering cannibal. He is presently in Italy and works as a curator at a museum. Clarice Starling, the FBI agent whom he aided to apprehend a serial killer, was placed in charge of an operation but when one of her men botches it, she's called to the mat by the Bureau. One high ranking official, Paul Krendler has it in for her. But she gets a reprieve because Mason Verger, one of Lecter's victims who is looking to get back at Lecter for what Lecter did to him, wants to use Starling to lure him out. When Lecter sends her a note she learns that he's in Italy so she asks the police to keep an eye out for him. But a corrupt policeman who wants to get the reward that Verger placed on him, tells Verger where he is. But they fail to get him. Later Verger decides to frame Starling which makes Lecter return to the States. And the race to get Lecter begins. Written by
An initial disappointment that gets better with time.
If "The Silence of the Lambs" is a thriller played liked a character-study, then "Hannibal" is a character-study played like a thriller. This isn't a good point, or a bad point (it goes both ways), but it's the most clear observation I could make out when I watched this film again recently. Another realization I came to was that, despite not really liking it on first viewing, this is actually a very good movie - one more deeply creepy, violent, and sad.
The plot lies more or less on the same level as the previous film. Hannibal is now free, Starling is disgraced after a scandal with the FBI, and an old victim of Hannibal's contacts her with a proposal to trap him once and for all. Things go awry, chaos ensues. The performances are just as brilliant as the original, and that goes a long way to helping the (slightly over-the-top) story stick together. The thing is, it's a completely different movie, which is probably why I and many others didn't like it upon release. Gone is the tension of the first movie, replaced instead by a much more potent sense of paranoia and dread - mostly down to Hannibal's new found freedom. Also new to this movie is the blood and gore that it's so infamous for. It did feature in the original, but not like this. This is an exceptionally violent movie, and features one of the sickest, nastiest scenes in the history of mainstream cinema (you know which one I'm talking about).
Unlike other movies, though, the violence means a lot here. Sure, it's gross and icky and what have you, but more than anything, the nastiness reveals a lot about its characters that the original film didn't touch on. Unlike the original, this isn't a film that particularly likes Hannibal - here, he's not the endearingly-creepy movie-monster, but he's an utter psychopath. This is bound to put some people off, but it feels like the natural thing for this film to do. Does it go too far? Possibly. Some things never need to be shown, but it's all integral to the film's vision so it gets a free pass... just about.
As for the film being a drama played like a thriller, that does mean it loses the probing character-based drama of the original. Starling's story in the original is so raw on screen that it practically bleeds - this film deals with similarly prickly affairs, but never really addresses them. The knock-on effect is that it ends up being a less involving film, but a more exciting one. Again, this isn't really a good point or a bad point, but it's more just a point of comparison. Don't come into Hannibal expecting the virtuosic drama of the original.
What ultimately saves Hannibal (the reason I've given it an 8) is the grand, darkly romantic vision it commits to. It's a sweeping, perfectly orchestrated film that feels as if it's what could have been made if film existed at the height of the romantic era. The sets are some of the most lavish to ever grace the crime-thriller genre (most of it is set in Florence), the music exists solely in the realms of opera and classical, and the plot, flawed as its logic sometimes is, hits every note with an intensity lacking in most crime movies. It's all fantastically realized.
In the end, it's not the perfect sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Some may find it too gory (yours truly included), and that's a fair comment. The plot enters a territory that will probably aggravate some, and that's also a fair criticism. If you can come into it realizing it's a different film to the first, however, you may ultimately end up finding a lot to like.
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