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It's fair to say that eyebrows were raised and expectations lowered when it was announced that Brett Ratner had been given the job of helming the second attempt at filming Thomas Harris' first 'Hannibal Lecter' novel. Michael Mann had done an excellent job in the 1980's, with Brian Cox playing the not-so-good doctor and William Petersen as his nemesis, FBI agent Will Graham in 'Manhunter', so it was not an obvious choice to go back a film it again. Especially when the man behind the viewfinder is the guy responsible for the 'Rush Hour' movies. 

Or at least it wouldn't be, if it wasn't for Anthony Hopkins. Having scared audiences worldwide with his portrayal of Lecter in 'The Silence of The Lambs', he became synonymous with the role. And, after the highly disappointing 'Hannibal', producer Dino De Laurentiis decided that he wanted to go back to the source and make a true adaptation of Harris' seminal book.

So, we are taken back to the early 1980's. In an inspired pre-credits sequence we get to see Lecter mingling with his high society cohorts, attending the opera and helping the FBI to profile their current quarry: a killer who likes to eat his victims. We get to see how Hannibal is caught and the seeds are sown for the hatred he has for Edward Norton's Federal Agent, the man who finally captured him.

 Jumping forward several years, Graham has retired from the FBI, never having fully recovered from the mental and physical scars the job gave him and is settled with his family repairing boats in Florida. His perfect life is shattered when his old boss, played by Harvey Keitel, arrives to ask for his help trying to profile a killer of entire families, dubbed the 'Tooth Fairy'. Reluctantly, Graham finds himself being sucked back into his old job and, finding himself out of his depth, realises that he must once again enlist the help of Dr Lecter to try and catch the killer.

It is a real treat to see Hopkins once again in the familiar plexi-glass cell. 'Hannibal' made a mistake by placing Lecter centre stage when he is much more effective on the sidelines, as 'Silence...' proved. During the first meeting between Graham and Lecter, the sense of loathing that Hannibal has for the agent is palpable. This isn't the caricature that swanned around Italy in 'Hannibal', this is a picture of pure evil, determined to prove his superior intellect to the agent who captured him. 

About a third of the way through, we are introduced to the 'Tooth Fairy' himself, Frances Dolarhyde,  played with consummate ease by Ralph Fiennes. To give too much away about this character would be a shame, but the way Fiennes inhabits the role, infusing it with a sense of menace, shyness and, ultimately, pity, is truly a remarkable feat. Fiennes owns this movie and even Hopkins' performance pales beside this turn. Emily Watson stars as Reba McClane, a blind workmate of Dolarhyde's, who may just turn out to be his salvation. It's this relationship where Ratner really shines. It's beautifully handled and a testament to the two actors that when they were on screen, I sometimes almost forgot about the mental chess game being played out by Lecter and Graham, across the plexi-glass.  In fact, the only weak link in the otherwise great cast, is Edward Norton. Usually a very fine actor, his performance as Will Graham seems a little unpolished and he never quite manages to convince as a haunted man tortured by demons from his past.

But that's a minor gripe, his performance here is perfectly acceptable - and it's not his fault that he's surrounded by an ensemble cast who are firing on all cylinders!

A return to form for the Doctor. Much, much better than 'Hannibal' and it only just falls short of being on a par with 'Silence...'. Bon appetit!


Sean G

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