2002, R, 124 min. Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 4, 2002
There's a scene in Red Dragon -- a bigger-budgeted remake of Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter -- in which Edward Norton, as FBI agent Will Graham, suffers an epiphany while sitting splay-legged on his apartment floor, surrounded by gory crime scene photos and caseload ephemera. "Her eyes! He touched her eyes!" shouts Norton, leaping up and about and looking an awful lot like Colin Clive did when he shouted "It's alive!" in James Whale's Frankenstein. What's up with them there peepers is of little concern here (and not all that important to Red Dragon, for that matter), but this fourth adaptation of Thomas Harris' bestselling serial-killer trilogy is positively goofy with positively goofy moments like this -- every 15 minutes or so someone (usually Norton) is spitting out sparks like a toaster in a bathtub. The movie wants you to lose your breath along with the gang up on the screen, and for the most part it works. Red Dragon is head and viscera above the turgid opulence of Ridley Scott's Hannibal (still one of the best comestible comedies I've ever salivated my way through -- be daring and plan a dinner party around it like I did and see how many friends you have left come l'entrements), although it scores, too, when it comes to good old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes suspense. Ratner, working from a very solid script by Ted Tally, makes oblique references to the world of the sighted and the blind commingling with the world of the cop and the killer (with Graham as the hyper-aware, semi-retired agent whose skills border on the preternatural and therefore flirt with the criminal) that feel fresh even if they really aren't. Red Dragon has much more in common with The Silence of the Lambs, and though Hopkins is getting a bit long in the tooth, ahem, to do a prequel sequence set in 1980, he's still the best epicurean cannibal in modern cinema. His Southern lisp seems more pronounced this time out, the belly perhaps a smidge more pronounced, the slicked-back crown of hair above those piggy eyes just a wee bit sparser, but still and all not the sort of fellow you'd like to encounter in the foie gras department of Central Market on a dark and rainy night. (Then again, who better?) Lecter and Graham have danced this particular waltz before, and so when he's baffled by the body count rising from the tabloid-dubbed "Tooth Fairy Killer," Graham, like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, turns to the incarcerated Lecter for help. (And here we get a treat in the form of Anthony Heald reprising his role as the obsequious Dr. Chilton, Lecter's grinny asylum gatekeeper.) What Harvey Keitel is doing here -- other than rounding out the cast with a forgettable character turn -- is anyone's guess, although Philip Seymour Hoffman as a sleazy tabloid journalist and Emily Watson as the sightless and oblivious friend of the killer more than make up for Keitel's non-role. Fiennes, as the madman-at-large, sports a natty back-tattoo that puts Val Kilmer's Salton Sea ink to shame, but more than that, he manages to distill the Tooth Fairy's mangled narcissistic psyche to a mere thimbleful of whispered lines. It's chilling what Fiennes can do with so very little; he looks like a wounded puppy half the time and sounds like one to boot. Like Lecter, though, beware those chompers.