Cinema Signal:

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

. "Red Dragon"

The keepers of the cannibal franchise continue the dramatic exploits of its best known practitioner, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Never quite as penetrating as the first of the series, "Manhunter" (1986), which this is a remake of, nor as shocking and edgy as its predecessor, "The Silence of the Lambs", "Red Dragon" does its best to maintain suspense and drama with a largely different set of acting characters. Through well-thought out writing and a completely pro cast, it achieves a good level of horror and fear of the boogie man.

In this case, we have two. Even though Hannibal is behind bars and successfully retained there by the guardians of our safety, and even though he finds ways to influence and propagate evil even from his confines, the continuation of the legend calls for an outside, active serial killer and, for this, we have Ralph Fiennes undertaking a role he hasn't exploited yet, the psychotic, delusional killer, Francis Dolarhyde, aka, the "Tooth Fairy", aka, the "Red Dragon".

Instead of Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling who started this off as the agent who was willing to face off against the ghastly cannibal, we have here a very capable and fastidious Edward Norton as agent Will Graham. Graham, as the story has it, is naturally gifted in processing visual crime data and seeing or interpreting it in an uncannily accurate way. He's a credit to his bureau. Trouble is, after a bloody shootout with Lecter, he's trying to retire. Let's put it this way, if he does, there's no movie.

His uber-agent, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), knows his man well, and rubs all the sore spots to lure his gifted agent on board in the investigation of the two sites where horrible killings took place near the last two full moons. As we get to know Graham and to watch how his analytic mind works, we understand how his accutely compiled discoveries will help him track down the monster responsible. But, in a repetition of a now patented sequence, he comes to a point where the only person who can give him needed insight into this new serial killer, the best "profiler" of them all, the imprisoned Lecter, himself. He negotiates a consultation.

There are the usual trade-offs, but in the delicious interplay with this superdemon, Lecter plays his mind games while doling out obscure but accurate clues.

Bringing it all to the humanistic level where the innocent and the vulnerable fall prey to the criminally insane is Reba McClane (Emily Watson), a blind beauty who works at the lab with Dolarhide, separating him out from the usual aggressive idiot who makes a play for her. His laconic shyness appeals to her more and more as she pushes into a relationship with the man whose fierce deadliness is masked by the apparent gentleness of his manner with her.

Director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally, do a fine and responsible bit of taut re-creation of the essential elements of novelist Thomas Harris's books on which the film series is based. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti's deep, moody lighting contributes fully to the picture's effect.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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