Hannibal (2001) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman
By Alan Bacchus
I remember really digging this film when it first came out. Hannibal seemed like an unusual follow-up film for Sir Ridley Scott, whose career was resurrected after his success with Gladiator, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Even more peculiar was the Pulitzer Prize-winning working class scribe, David Mamet (with help from prolific Hollywood writer-for-hire Steven Zallian), who adapted the screenplay.
It still is a weirdly peculiar product from Hollywood. Clearly, Thomas Harris was lured by Hollywood to write another book featuring his Lambs protagonist, Clarice Starling, who was chasing after the escaped criminal Hannibal Lecter. While his two previous efforts, Lambs and Manhunter were brooding psychological and procedural police-cum-horror films, Hannibal was made into a comic book superhero with a kind of grotesqueness meant to better the atrocities and vileness of the Lambs with an over-the-top sense of black comedy.
Anthony Hopkins, more aged and a little stockier, doesn’t quite have the controlled physique, and thus quiet menace, of the 1991 film. And the inability of the producers (and not even the revered Ridley Scott!) to bring back Jodie Foster hurt its credibility. Julianne Moore is a good actress though, and she tries her best. But that Southern drawl accent never quite fits her, and Scott’s attempts to continue the exploration of her insecurities in the police force are peppered throughout, but they never manifest themselves in a substantially effective way.
Hannibal works best as a disposable but elegant B-thriller. The middle act is jumpstarted with the introduction of the film’s best character, played by Giancarlo Giannini, the broken-down and corrupt Italian police inspector who wants to claim the private ransom money. Driven with a great music pulse from Hans Zimmer, act 2 sails along at a brisk pace. Scott has always been a slower-paced director, but by cutting to characters in a number of locations and different characters in the US and Italy, he creates a heady momentum. And the inclusion of bombastic performances from Ray Liotta and Gary Oldman should be taken as black comedy.
If anything, the film suffers from the flaws that have plagued Sir Ridley in films past. Fans of his might welcome the application of his familiar baroque and extravagant visual design. Others, like me, who are well attuned to his body of work, may only see more long flowing drapes, smoke-filled atmosphere and overly decorated interiors. And the opening drug bust sequence is typical of his new methods of filming action scenes – a multi-camera simultaneous coverage approach, which results in a dull television look.