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Release: 2001, MGM
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman
Director: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, sexuality, language, nudity
Genre: Thriller
Runtime: 131 minutes

Break the silence...

The paths of escaped killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) and FBI agent Clarice Starling (Moore) cross again when forces conspire to recapture the madman.

What's Good
gory, twisted scenes of murder and death
interesting perspective of a killer blending into society
tight, claustrophobic sense of suspense at times
Hannibal Lecter is one of the most legendary of screen villains

What's Bad
Hannibal is too humanized, and presented as heroic
Ray Liotta adds too much comedy
Jodie Foster does not reprise her role as Clarice Starling
Hannibal is far too prone to saying, "Clarice..."

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (02/01)

It's been ten years since Dr. Hannibal Lecter terrorized audiences from behind the glass in The Silence of the Lambs--now the cannibalistic madman with the super-intellect is out of his cage and living the quiet life in Italy. Is Hannibal, the highly anticipated follow-up to the now classic 1991 psychological thriller, as good as its predecessor? Probably not. But in the absence of unrealistically high expectations, Hannibal manages to be an entertaining movie in its own right.

It is perhaps more fitting to call Hannibal the epilogue to The Silence of the Lambs rather than the sequel. The two movies are cast in significantly different molds, with the former being less about mindgames and more about consequences. We find out what happened to Hannibal Lecter after he escaped, and we find out that Clarice Starling's career has taken a dismal turn since then.

This epilogue approach is a mixed bag. On the plus side, we get to see Hannibal integrate into society. He's living in Italy, sipping wine, taking in the occasional play, and lecturing audiences on history under an assumed name. This gives the movie a great wolf-in-sheep's-clothing tension, as you are constantly wondering when and if this devious psychopath will snap and start eating people's faces again. On the minus side, however, this makes the movie less menacing, a bit slower, and not as engaging. In true afterward form, this story takes place after the true climax: Lecter's mindgames with Starling and his subsequent escape.

The true action of Hannibal is set into motion when two separate forces attempt to track him down: an Italian police officer named Pazzi and rich businessman Mason Verger. Pazzi wants to turn Hannibal in to the FBI and collect the $3 million reward. Meanwhile, Verger wants simple revenge, as a past experience with Hannibal left his face horribly disfigured--he has since obsessed over the infamous murderer and dreams of feeding him to man-eating hogs.

This story has the unfortunate effect of making Hannibal the victim. The hunter becomes the prey, and in the process, Hannibal is humanized into a character we have concern for. That's not a good thing for someone who is supposed to be the villain. What's worse, he actually becomes downright heroic at one point when he rescues Clarice in a deadly situation. Also knocking the movie's atmosphere off-kilter is Ray Liotta's character. As a sleazy spokesperson for the Justice Department, he adds too much humor to the "dinner scene," a moment that should be exclusively twisted and repulsive.

The first face-to-face meeting between Starling and Lecter doesn't work either. This is a particularly wasted scene, not nearly as dramatic as they mislead you to believe in the trailer. Instead of a suffocating moment in which we are painfully aware of the absence of the glass wall between the two characters, we get all the tension of a "Hey, what's up, ol' buddy?" greeting. What does work, however, is the scene in which they carry out their first phone conversation. Boosted by the fact that Hannibal is in the middle of a killing, that moment has all the feel of some unholy reunion.

Credit should be given to Julianne Moore. Like many moviegoers, I was concerned that the movie wouldn't fly when Jodie Foster turned down the opportunity to reprise the role of Clarice Starling--a character she made famous. For the sake of continuity, I didn't want the producers to pull off a Bewitched and swap the Darrins as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But Moore, putting on a slight southern drawl, is good as the intrepid FBI agent--so good that Foster's absence is never noticeable. (Incidentally, the know-it-alls needn't remind me that Manhunter, the first film to feature Lecter, had a different cast--most people don't even associate that movie with The Silence of the Lambs.)

Gary Oldman, barely recognizable in gruesome flashbacks and virtually inhuman in the present tense of the movie, is also a strong presence as Mason Verger, the disfigured handiwork of a knife and a few well placed suggestions. And of course, Anthony Hopkins is right at home as his most memorable screen persona, the evil Hannibal Lecter. Although many of his actions and comments have turned into self-parody thanks to his legendary status in pop culture, Hannibal remains an interesting character, well worth a re-visit. And thanks to his wicked history, you always think he is going to bite a chunk out of someone the moment the camera claustrophobically tightens up on him and another person. (Now if only he can stop saying "Clarice..." For God's sake, he says it about a zillion times, even though the threat is no longer there.)

Overall, Hannibal doesn't get under the skin as much as its predecessor. But with a few twisted and suspenseful scenes, it manages to be a crowd pleaser for audiences seeking a simple thriller with already-established characters.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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