Red Dragon

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

RED DRAGON

6/10

USA 2002 : Brett Ratner : 122 mins

Previously filmed by Michael Mann as the stunning Manhunter, Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel ‘Red Dragon’ introduced the world to suave psychopath Hannibal Lecktor – renamed Lecter when Anthony Hopkins took over the role (from Brian Cox) for the relatively tame box-office blockbusters The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. While Mann’s version was daring and visionary, Ratner takes the safe-hands approach reminiscent of those hapless directors entrusted with the James Bond franchise, bringing Lambs scribe Ted Tally’s nimble screenplay to absorbing life with a minimum of fuss.

This is a thoroughly slick, professional, old-fashioned kind of police-procedural thriller – Manhunter cinematographer Dante Spinotti is back on board, as is Lambs production designer Kristi Zea. The dauntingly high-calibre selection of actors is headed by Edward Norton as Will Graham, the FBI agent who caught Lecter back in 1980, and lured out of retirement six years later to help catch serial-killer Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) – both sides receiving “assistance” from the incarcerated cannibal. Among the supporting cast, Emily Watson (as Dolarhyde’s love-interest/potential-victim) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as a sweaty journalist on his trail) make typically strong impressions, and it’s a delight to see Anthony Heald back as Lecter’s prissy captor Dr Chilton – Hopkins’ only serious rival in terms of swishily unhinged camp.

Previously best known for the Rush Hour movies – and the underrated Family Man – Ratner copes well with such a daunting project: even Manhunter fans may find themselves biting their nails as the tension starts to mount, especially as Tally’s script radically diverges from the Mann version both at the beginning (a tense 1980-set prologue) and, crucially, the climax, in which the Dolarhyde and Graham plot-strands finally converge.

But there’s a fundamental weakness in the novel which neither Mann nor Ratner versions are ever able to surmount: this fuzzy idea that Graham has psychopathic tendencies which he’s able to keep in check and channel into a Sherlock Holmes-style form of heightened intuition. It’s a set-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief gimmick and one that never really convinces. Likewise, it’s disappointing that Red Dragon takes place in 1986 in name only – Ratner’s only concession to ‘period’ being a neon-haired young librarian who helps Graham out with his researches. Mann’s film was, among many other things, a compendium of kitschy mid-eighties ‘tech-noir’ design, simultaneously representing the very worst and very best of that disreputable decade.

15th October, 2002
(seen 4th October, Odeon Mansfield)

For our pre-release Red Dragon preview click here

by Neil Young
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