SCORE: 3 1/2Stars
Red Dragon is probably a mysterious addition to most movie fans of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. All three films are based on the novels of Thomas Harris. But, Red Dragon was first (1981). TSOTL followed in 1988. Recently, Harris finished the trilogy with the distasteful Hannibal.
To further confuse matters, Red Dragon was previously filmed under the title Manhunter (1986). That film starred Brain Cox as the character Hannibal "Lecktor." No account here for the spelling change. Push all that aside and our new movie is a well-cast, creepy thriller close to the Oscar winning The Silence of the Lambs in psychologically nerve-wracking intensity. Ironically, the weakest link here is Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins will never be able to eclipse his role in TSOTL. Even if his character was fresh, Red Dragon forces him to play second fiddle to a serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes). And, ultimately, Red Dragon becomes Fiennes film.
I'm not sure why Fiennes drifts in and out of good movies. He unequivocally proved his range in Schindler's List and Quiz Show (two of the best films of the 1990's). Here, a little make-up suggesting a cleft-lip and Fiennes' subtle speech impediment helps the actor create a terrific villain. The Tooth Fairy's crimes are countered by his innocent interest in an attractive blind woman (Emily Watson). When we get hints of his upbringing we can't help but pity the Tooth Fairy. Trust me, you'll never look at your grandmother's dentures the same. Enough said. I don't want to spoil anything.
I applaud the following:
1) Edward Norton. Complex retired FBI profiler, who gets "too close" to the mind of a killer. His uncanny instincts intrigue Lecter.
2) Emily Watson. I never once thought of her as a writer's "contrivance" despite the fact she plays a blind victim.
3) Philip Seymour Hoffman. A sleazy journalist who "gets" more than he deserves. His big scene is devastating.
4) Danny Elfman's pounding score.
5) A climax that is actually better than the book. If you liked The Silence of the Lambs, you will like Red Dragon. Catch it on the big screen, in the dark, by yourself.