Tuesday, June 27, 2017


2002's Red Dragon is the second film based on Thomas Harris's 1981 novel of the same name. Michael Mann brought the story to big screen first in1986 as Manhunter, which producer Dino DeLaurentis was ultimately unhappy with. Manhunter is a stylish if dated thriller. It has all the hallmarks of Mann's best work and has a strong cult following. Red Dragon in comparison is much more faithful to the book, but a bit dry.

Directed by Brett Ratner and starring Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, Mary Louise Parker, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and returning for his third outing as Hannibal, Anthony Hopkins, Red Dragon wraps up the Hopkins trilogy following '90's Silence Of The Lambs and '01's Hannibal. Ending the trilogy with a prequel creates a neat loop constantly feeding back into itself. Unfortunately it's the weakest of the three, suffering from being just too damn matter-of-fact.

Red Dragon begins with a prelude, showing us Lecter throwing a dinner party after a concert and afterwards getting a visit from Will Graham who has been getting help from Lecter in the Chesapeake Ripper case. During the visit, Graham realizes that he's made a mistake and Lecter himself is the Ripper. Lecter, one step ahead, tries to kill Graham, but is shot in the process. Jump ahead, FBI director Jack Crawford pays a now retired Graham a visit, seeking out help catching a serial killer dubbed The Tooth Fairy, because he's a biter. Graham, who had been seriously wounded by Lecter is reluctant, but he knows he can't sit on the side lines while innocent people die, so he comes out of retirement. It doesn't take him long before he realizes that the Tooth Fairy is going to be a very formidable adversary and time is running out before he chooses his next victims, so Graham turns to Lecter for help.

I'm completely at a loss to compare Red Dragon to Ratner's other films since the only other one I've seen is X-Men; Last Stand. Last Stand is, next to X-Men Origins; Wolverine, the worst X-Men sequel.  Red Dragon is such a different kind of film stylistic comparisons are pointless.

Even comparing Red Dragon to Manhunter or the Hannibal tv series seems pointless and that leaves us only the other two Hopkins films to hold it up to. Jonathan Demme, Ridley Scott, and Brett Ratner have little in common in style and taste and the three films all have a somewhat different flavor that compliments and contrasts at turns. Hopkins' performance and Ted Tally's scripts are the only consistent elements. Even reoccurring characters are re-cast. As I said,  Red Dragon is rather dry. Silence was engrossing as a character drama and race against time, Hannibal was more visceral and skirted the line between horror film and thriller more, and then Dragon is more literal, less stylish, but has moments that are no less harrowing than the first two. The problem with the film is that while Demme and Scott were able to find strength in their films' quiet moments, Ratner does not. While the film boasts an impressive cast, they lack the chemistry that can be found in every other adaptation of the Harris's material. It's an A-list cast in a B-list thriller. Had it come out before Silence it may have fared better, because it's not a bad film. Red Dragon has a lot going for it and doesn't lack tension and real scares. It's well worth watching for what it does right and is generally forgivable for the lulls.

Getting back to the casting, this is probably my biggest gripe about the movie. Edward Norton's take on Will Graham is almost too normal. Graham in the book is much more damaged and traumatized after his final encounter with Lecter and this greatly effects him through his pursuit of The Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon (Fiennes). William Peterson in Manhunter and Hugh Dancy in Hannibal the series nailed this. Norton did damaged much better in Fight Club. Harvey Keitel is another odd choice in casting as he a) doesn't do much and b) doesn't fill the shoes of Scott Glen who defined the role of FBI director Jack Crawford. Fiennes is excellent in the movie, but I could never get over the idea that Tom Noonan made so much more sense and embodied the Fairy/Dragon/Francis Dollarhyde so much better. Fiennes captures every aspect of the Fairy's personality, but his disfiguration is so slight that he just doesn't visually represent an outsider the way Noonan did. I know it's all about psychology, but for me I just can't shake Noonan, even when I read the book. (If you recall from the last part of the series, I had the same problem with Julianne Moore. This isn't a typical problem for me, as I can normally accept recasting in most franchises. For whatever reason, that's a huge sticking point for me with these, that's why I harp on it so much.)

Another problem Red Dragon suffers from has nothing to do with Ratner, the cast, or anything else in the film; looking back from 2017 it just all feels very redundant. We've seen this story adapted to the screen three times in less than 30 years now. To get the most out of the film one will have to watch it before seeing the other two adaptations, accept it on it's own outside of the rest of the franchise, or see it at a great distance from watching the others. Had a director like David Fincher or even Ben Affleck (think The Town or Gone Baby Gone) taken on the film and given the direction the kind of style and flare they bring, Red Dragon may have been able to hold it's own against Silence and Hannibal instead of being so pedestrian. Ultimately, though, as an adaptation it really is just a cash in on the popularity of Hopkins' portrayal, and he's hardly in the film, though his part is a bit beefed up from the book, though no where near to the extent of the TV series. I don't like to be so cynical, especially in regards to a film that's not that bad, but it just sits there, doesn't it?

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