Friday, October 29, 2010

Red Dragon (2002)

Watching Red Dragon was a surreal experience, for two reasons. First, the basic plot is similar to The Silence of the Lambs, in that an FBI agent solicits Hannibal Lecter's help in tracking down a(nother) serial killer. And second, the story had been filmed once before, as Manhunter, which I watched only days earlier. But Manhunter is sort of outside the main Hannibal series because it was filmed before Silence, which was immensely popular; and, most notably, introduced Anthony Hopkins as the iconic portrayal of Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter. So what we've got with Red Dragon is the story I'm familiar with from Manhunter, but with the Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs, complete with the same prison and prison staff. So I'm getting flashbacks to both of those films, while simultaneously picking out (without trying) all the differences between this adaptation of the story and the previous one. It all makes for a confusing viewing.

Still, it was a good film. Better than Hannibal. But I still like Manhunter better. William Petersen as the agent who originally caught Hannibal was captivating in Manhunter. I have to admit, Edward Norton may be a good actor, but I didn't believe him as much, in the same role in Red Dragon - the gritty FBI agent who gets into the minds of the serial killers he tracks down. As for the killer, he was pretty creepy. I thought the killer in Manhunter seemed more real, this one has got the whole schizophrenic psychosis thing going on and I'm not sure if that whole fantasy aspect makes it more, or less scary. I would say it's another case of Hollywoodizing the horror. It's really fascinating watching two adaptations of the same story, filmed in two completely different decades (mid-eighties versus early noughties). I'm sure there's some interesting cultural observations to be made there, but I'm not going to go into that.

I'm sure my appreciation of this film was hurt somewhat by the fact that I already knew the story, from watching Manhunter. Murder mysteries are just that type of story where a lot of the suspense and draw comes from not knowing how you're gonna get from A to B. Instead of really getting into the clues, since I already knew where they were all headed, I spent my time remarking at the similarities and differences between the adaptations. I want to say that this one was less effective than the previous one, but that could just be my bias of having seen the earlier one first. One thing I can say with certainty is that Red Dragon does not have the stylistic pizazz of Manhunter.

The Great Red Dragon
and the Woman Clothed in Sun,
by William Blake

"We live in a primitive time, don't we, Will? Neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me, or put me to some use."

- Hannibal Lecter

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