Mischa and Hannibal, baby brother and sister, are inseparable; it is their love for each other that ties their bond. Their companionship is forever binding, until, with their family, while hiding from the Nazi war machine a twisted set of circumstance sets the pace for a most vicious attack on the future of one Hannibal Lecter for the sworn vengeance for the brutal killing of his baby sister. Years later, we find Hannibal, the teenager, setting up in Paris, and living with his aunt Lady Murasaki Shikibu and studying at medical school here he finds his forte. Still searching for his sister's murderers, still bitter and still ever hopeful of satisfying his desire for retribution. This chance arrives, and soon we are to learn that for a pound of flesh lost a pound of flesh must be repaid. This is the horrific tale of justice and honor, a young man's growing pains that will have the guilty paying with more than just flesh and bone. This is the up and rising tale of the young Hannibal, ... Written by
The more we know about the monster, the less scary he becomes
In the sole Oscar-grabbing horror epic "The Silence of the Lambs" Hannibal Lector was presented to us intelligently and sparsely in fleeting glimpses covered in masks, behind bars and in the shadow. In "Hannibal Rising", he inhabits every single scene. This is his warped, twisted bildungsroman, his revenge story, and his background history. In short, the only things "Hannibal" shares with "Lambs" is its name.
It is one cash-cow of a name, too. Every frame in the film is milked its worth of Hannibal's evil nature, without much subtlety. Sure, there have clearly been half-hearted attempts to establish the kind of high-brow horror that Lambs achieved, but the film reeks of b-quality and unimaginative grotesqueness. There are only faint, dimmed traces of horror or genuine suspense, often washed away by pedestrian set-ups that make fans of the genre nod with tired recognition. For example, the dialogue feels unforgivably staged. In fact, there is no real exchange between the characters, only plot-propelling lines or rehearsed wisdom that slip through in between the torture games. But what is probably worse is that "Hannibal" never tips over nearly far enough or often enough into enjoyably hammy territory. It has absolutely no self-distance, the kind of spark in the eye of Anthony Hopkins, or any form of a sense of humour.
Onto casting, Gaspard Ulliel is clearly not a bad performer, nor is anyone's acting truly the root of the film's problems. However, Ulliel's gaze isn't the piercing, wise, twisted trademark look of Hopkins as Lector, but rather the sleazy eye of a teenage boy ogling a girl on the street. To add insult to injury, he is confident in a way that is much too cocky for Lector, who should rely on a sort of inherent calm and confidence that is only displayed subtly through his eyes. I will concede that a couple of scenes aptly showcases his acting skills though, such as the mental breakdown scene toward the end of the film. Rhys Ifans, a charming Welshman usually relegated to good-guy characters, gets his freak on in unnecessarily sinister ways. He has "the eyes of an arctic wolf" and throughout the film he shouts, murders, loots, rapes and generally acts badass to instill the 'baddie' image in his character. Which is clearly preaching to the choir given his opening crime what prompts Lector's revenge. Nevertheless, nothing Ifans does is all bad, and again, acting is never the problem.
The fundamental problem is my titular assessment. It can stand repeating: the more we know about the monster, the less scary he becomes. I would not go as far as to say the story victimizes Hannibal, but here he inhabits the protagonist slot and elicits sympathy of sorts accordingly. Do we root for him? Not exactly. Do we wish he'd get caught? Not really. There are plenty of gray zones in the film -- perhaps intentional, perhaps not -- that have the cumulative effect of not really achieving anything tangible. Toward the end you almost feel a bit 'meh' about the whole story, and the not-hero-but-not-villain slot inhabited by Hannibal causes a stance of indifference toward his action, however outlandish they are.
5.5 out of 10
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