Sunday 8 August 2021

Movie Review: Red Dragon (2002)

A serial killer suspense drama, Red Dragon is a fulfilling mix of mortal psychological mind games and dogged detective work.

In 1980, the FBI's Will Graham (Edward Norton) barely escapes with his life when he identifies his mentor and confidant, forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), as a cannibalistic serial killer. Lecter is imprisoned for life and Will retires.

Years later, two families are slaughtered in their homes, one month apart. The FBI's Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) presses Will back into service to investigate the crime scenes before the killer strikes again. Recognizing the work of a psychologically disturbed killer, Will turns to the incarcerated Lecter for advice, while tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman) salivates after the next headline.

Meanwhile lab technician Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) is fighting self-hate, insecurities about a minor facial disfigurement, and boiling inner demons. He starts dating work colleague Reba McClane (Emily Watson), who is blind. Dolarhyde and Lecter exchange correspondence, and Will's wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker) and son are soon placed in danger.

A satisfying prequel to Silence Of The Lambs, Red Dragon is a taut and moody suspense thriller, benefitting from a strong cast, two deranged villains, and an emphasis on patient detective work. Director Brett Ratner adopts a stark and straightforward style, allowing the characters to dominate and confining visual artistry to the background. Ted Tally's script (adopting the 1981 book by Thomas Harris) avoids horror cliches, focusing instead on the painstaking work required to penetrate sick minds.

Despite building excellent momentum, the film does suffer from a few weaknesses. Edward Norton is an unconvincing presence at the centre of the drama, his Will Graham lacking sufficient weight to counter Lecter and Dolarhyde. The massacres of two families and the race to prevent a third atrocity are somehow relegated to a sideshow in the final act, as the danger becomes more personal for Reba and Will but also less broadly threatening. And for all the red dragon artistry and literature references, the damage in Dolarhyde's mind remains superficially abstract.

But working with what he has, Ralph Fiennes as Dolarhyde does open a second front of twisted yet almost pathetic criminality, and Ratner invests in the world of a serial killer struggling to overcome severe inferiorities. His strife is revealed through the enhanced emotional senses of Reba, Emily Watson bringing to life an intriguing character desperate to be treated as a woman rather than a blind person.

Although Hannibal Lecter is sidelined in his cell for most of the film, Anthony Hopkins ensures his malevolence is never far from Will's psyche. Lecter's gift of manipulation knows no bounds, and he uses Will's request for help as an opportunity to plot a remote yet savage revenge. The brilliant cannibal may be incarcerated, but everyone else is just a pawn on his heinous chess board as he orchestrates a fearsome collision between fragility and fury.

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