Thursday, May 5, 2011

Film Review: HANNIBAL (2001, Ridley Scott)

Stars: 1.7 of 5.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Anthony Hopkins (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, TITUS), Julianne Moore (JURASSIC PARK 2, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE), Ray Liotta (COP LAND, GOODFELLAS), Gary Oldman (SID & NANCY, JFK), Frankie Faison (MANHUNTER, EXTERMINATOR 2), Giancarlo Giannini (SEVEN BEAUTIES, SWEPT AWAY...), Francesca Neri (LIVE FLESH, COLLATERAL DAMAGE), Zeljko Ivanek (MANDERLAY, BIG LOVE). Music by Hans Zimmer (TRUE ROMANCE, GLADIATOR). Cinematography by John Mathieson (GLADIATOR, ROBIN HOOD). Directed by Ridley Scott (BLADE RUNNER, GLADIATOR). Co-written (kind of) by David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, HOUSE OF GAMES, STATE AND MAIN).
Tag-line: "His genius... UNDENIABLE - His evil... UNSPEAKABLE - His name... UNFORGETTABLE"
Best one-liner: "Bowels in or bowels out?"

Rising above its occasionally silly, lurid subject matter, Jonathan Demme crafted THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS into an uncommonly emotive and well-made thriller. While not an all-time favorite, I enjoy it quite a bit, particularly the magnificent character actor performances contained within, from Scott Glenn to Anthony Heald to Ted Levine to, of course, the two leads. (It even gets bonus points for having a ginormous-eyeglasses-free George A. Romero cameo.) Conversely, HANNIBAL is... garbage. And it's not the sort of trash that excites me on a level like MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK or HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN or THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE; it's the sort of trash that can only be bought for $87 million.

Where to begin? Stylistically, it's as if Tony Scott (Ridley's brother) and latter-day Danny Boyle held an arm-wrestling match atop a camera, their pivot points being the shutter-speed control and the exposure button.

Slowed-frame-rate slow-motion (aka bad slow motion, which should never be used by anybody except David Lynch) is employed on a near-constant basis, whereupon my spit-takes gave way to groans of desperation.


Julianne Moore descends the stairs as the shutter speed shifts and we dissolve from one image to another while overlapping a third.

The Florence locations are beautiful, but I can't help but think of the United Nations allowing THE INTERPRETER within their hallowed walls, when they had rejected decades-earlier bids by NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

At least they don't use historical Tuscan city for product placement and self-aggrandiz–

Oh. Well, nice to see you Mr. Crowe. But none of this would be a problem if the movie wasn't so sure of its own brilliance. "Oh boy..." this movie says with flared nostrils and shit-eating grin, "we are delivering you all the thrills of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS... and more!– Aren't you grateful?"

I don't want to get too far ahead of myself– let's tackle the plot. Supposedly co-adapted from the Thomas Harris novel by David Mamet, I was initially excited, but eventually found myself imagining three scenarios: A. Mamet was involved, but they didn't use his stuff, B. Mamet was involved, and he completely phoned it in, or C. Mamet lent his name only so that the film would gain prestige and he would gain bags of money. Cursory research shows it to be mostly A., with a likely smattering of C.

Regardless, it's sort of like a buddy cop movie. (A buddy cop cannibal movie? Don't ask me, because I don't know.) So we catch up with Clarice Starling a decade after the events of the first film, and now she's played by a sullen Julianne Moore. Julianne honestly tries her best, but I couldn't help but wish I was watching her instead in TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE. Hell, I was even looking fondly back on JURASSIC PARK 2. Anyway, she's a baby-washin' action-luvin' FBI agent who gets involved in a shootout with a baby-carrying woman and subsequently has to wash blood off of an animatronic baby, in a scene fraught with baby-washing emotion.

It takes a while to get there, but eventually we get to that ubiquitous buddy-cop scene where she has to turn in her badge and gun while some stiff-upper lip higher-up jerk-off is saying

"you destroyed half the city you action-luvin' loose cannon cop, you're a liability!"

and then our spunky hero says something like "you're making a big mistake, I'm the only one who can crack this case, and with all due respect, 'fuck you, sir!'" And Ray Liotta's in there, too

occasionally getting the chance to giggle like a little girl on coke, which is all we really wanted to see in this movie anyway.

Then there's Gary Oldman as a disfigured former victim of Hannibal Lector (Hannibal coerced him into cutting off his own face and feeding it to dogs after feeding him one popper, which I don't think is scientifically accurate unless they meant this kind of popper). His makeup is really quite impressive, but once I came to the internal decision that it resembled a cross between The Cryptkeeper and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, there was really no turning back.

He's got a convoluted plan to bring Hannibal to justice via some flesh-eating hogs he's been raising for the occasion, but because the filmmakers want Hannibal to be our cannibal anti-hero, they stack the deck ridiculously so against Oldman, making him a child molesting, bible-thumping, ultra-rich asshole. Who is also disfigured. And before you think about that too hard, I mean, look at his face, don't you see the face of... A MONSTER???

Which leads us to the film's secondary hypothesis, which is that Hannibal is some kind of Christ-figure, meting out harsh justice to deserving rude people. All I can say is that Hannibal is far more interesting behind bars as a source of brooding, intellectual menace, because as soon as he's out, he turns into a combo of Freddy Kruger and John McClane which might even be okay in a different series, but this film follows MANHUNTER and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS fer God's sake! (Also see: my hatred for RED DRAGON.)

We're treated to a bad-slomo/shutter speed flashback of Hannibal attacking a nurse, a flashback scene referenced in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. In that film, we heard the incident described in ominous detail, and it built a terrifying picture (in our minds) of what this Hannibal fellow was going to be like.

Going back unnecessarily and showing it at this point is like if they'd made a SE7EN: PART 2 and shown, via flashback, exactly how that notorious box from the finale came to be filled.

And because Anthony Hopkins wore an amazing big dumb hat in his final scene of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, we are now entreated to 131 minutes of Hopkins wearing big dumb hats because now we can truly infer that he is a big dumb hat aficionado.


Along the journey that is this film, we're bestown with a zany Hannibal carousel ride, a supporting role from the talented Zeljko Ivanek (who seems destined to play only toadies, slimeballs, or a combination of the two),

a quasi-meaty but inadequate role for Italian film legend Giancarlo Giannini,

and the infamous "food for thought" scene with Ray Liotta, where he manages to actually be excellent despite being trapped in an awkward, overproduced horror scenario, the sort that can never match the dinner scene in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, no matter how many millions are poured into it.

Liotta's pathos cannot be easily caged.

And in a weird, topical twist, while watching this last night, I was shocked to see a pre-9/11 Osama bin Laden cameo (sharing the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list with Hannibal Lector).

Which sort of leads to this next point, which is my (possibly crazed) claim that thrillers have gone into the toilet since the internet era began.

For some reason it annoys me to no end to see filmic cops, neighborhood kids, concerned homeowners, etc. doing research on serial killers, Freddy Krueger, poltergeists, etc. on their computers! Stick to the microfiche and musty tomes, I say!

Well, I guess that's about it. I can't say anything more about this mov–




I take it all back– here's five stars for you, HANNIBAL. Here I was harshly judging you as a thriller, when in fact you were a love story all along. I apologize. Please don't think I'm one of those rude people.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

I remember I was reading your Red Dragon review a while back and I thought, "God, I wonder how much he hates Hannibal". Now I know for sure.

This is seriously the worst Ridley Scott film ever made, and it really isn't close in my mind. Just an absolute piece of crap in all regards, and it includes too of my favorite modern character actors in Liotta and Oldman!

Like you said, the minute they made a 65-year-old-not-named-Paul-Kersey into some sort of super anti-hero, that's when I was out.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hysterical Sean.

Honestly, there was something about the film that I enjoyed. I actually like aspects of Hannibal.

Having said, oddly enough, you nail it and many of its problems.

Hannibal is so beautiful but so sprawling and messy like bloatware.

I don't think the material was done any favors by replacing Jodie Foster with Julianne Moore. Moore is fine actress, but not as good as Foster at least in this role.

But again, it is a strange moving film and ultimately is it as memorable as Demme's Silence Of The Lambs? No.

I may have to watch this one again, but eventhough you are so classic, especially in that "eat her/ kiss her" montage I still reserve my vote in favor of seeing the film. : ) Great stuff Sean!


J.D. said...

Nah, this isn't the worst film that belongs to the one where he teamed up with Russell Crowe as some hardman stockbroker type who decides to retire to Italy and make wine. Blech!

But HANNIBAL is a close second. Man, what a train wreck of a film! Just awful for many of the reasons you stated in your awesome review. Everything about this film reeks paycheck gig! Even the source material, the novel was written to cash in on SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and to then be made into a film. Thomas Harris you hack.

Oh well, nothing will erase the brilliance of MANHUNTER, IMO.

Sean Gill said...


You make a fine point there about geriatric mass-murderers, though now I'm wondering what the DEATH WISH 5 experience would have been like with an $87 million budget.


Thank you, sir! I think it also seemed all the more profane to me because I watched it back to back with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and MANHUNTER, and because I was expecting schweet, rapid-fire Mamet dialogue. Ah, well. Still a notch better than RED DRAGON.


Seeing the trailer for A GOOD YEAR was more than enough for me- yikes! The man can be pretty hit-or-miss sometimes. Fingers crossed on PROMETHEUS.

As for the hackdom of Thomas Harris, I've never read any of his works, but upon reading the plot synopsis of HANNIBAL the novel, I was struck with the idea that this movie could have potentially been much, much worse. Hoo boy.

And you're right- not even this can tarnish Mann's film. Though you have to love that, according to Wikipedia, even though Dino produced MANHUNTER and RED DRAGON both, he said "Manhunter was no good... it was not Red Dragon." Errrrr....WHAT?!

Anonymous said...

Oldman is a goddamn chameleon! I've been subjected to this film no less than 3 times, and I never knew that was him(or never bothered to look). Often I find myself not recognizing Oldman right off the bat, even when I first saw the batman and harry potter series. Amazing!

As for the film, nothing to write home about.

How about a review of "The Hunger"(bowie)? Also I rewatched eXistenZ and found it very entertaining.

Keep up the good work!


J.D. said...

Yeah, I just watched EXISTENZ again after many years. What a fascinating film!

I am kinda anticipating PROMETHEUS if only to see Scott back doing science fiction again.

Speaking of his films I always felt that WHITE SQUALL was kinda underappreciated as a film.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks, man! You're right- Oldman is certainly a chameleon; even underneath all of that makeup, he makes sure that he controls and disguises his vocal inflections completely. Alas, his dedication to perfectionism was not shared my the film's makers.

I haven't seen THE HUNGER in a long time, I may be up for a revisit/review. EXISTENZ is a personal favorite and a masterpiece of atmosphere. Definitely in my Cronenberg top 5.


I haven't seen WHITE SQUALL, I've been told that it and THE DUELLISTS are the two gaping holes in my Ridley Scott appreciation.