Hannibal. 2001. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by David Mamet & Steven Zaillian; based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris.
Starring Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, and Hazelle Goodman. MGM/Universal Pictures/Dino De Laurentiis Company. Rated R. 131 minutes. Crime/Drama/Thriller
★★★★Recently the Bryan Fuller helmed Hannibal series ended over at NBC, so I’ve been going back over the wonderful films to revisit the previous incarnations of Dr. Lecter in the movies.
While not everyone is a fan of the book Hannibal, nor are they keen on Ridley Scott’s adaptation penned by David Mamet/Steven Zaillian, I’m actually a fairly ardent fan of both. Something I always loved about the Thomas Harris novels was the fact they’re truly disturbing in a get-under-the-skin-and-crawl type of way; from Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon to Buffalo Bill out of The Silence of the Lambs, everything in those pages is pure dread and macabre storytelling.
When it comes to the film, it’s too bad most of Mamet’s adaptation was re-hauled completely by screenwriter Steven Zaillian; perhaps if more Mamet remained, the script would’ve appealed more to some of the detractors.
Either way, this is a pretty damn good adaptation regardless of the few flaws. An at times gory thriller, there is much darkness and disturbing subject matter within this Ridley Scott directed film. Though not all of Harris made it into the film, both because of Scott wishing to make changes and in the name of time (this is already over two hours), I do find the movie to be faithful in terms of how chilling much of the novel itself was, and I believe most of this did cross over.
After the events of The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is on the run, making his way across the globe. Back in the United States, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is still going strong in the FBI. Her most recent case has taken her into the way of danger, as a fellow agent puts everyone at risk. Of course, the rabid sexism of the patriarchal Federal Bureau of Investigations takes Starling for a ride. Disgraced and with almost every single back turned to her, Clarice does her best to get by. Though, it isn’t easy with people like Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) on her back.
Then, a letter arrives from Europe, smelling of fine perfumes and other fragrances. It is addressed to Clarice. It is from Hannibal. Rushing to figure out where he might be, Clarice tries to navigate the choppy waters of her current job situation. But even worse than the chauvinist Krendler is the presence of an old victim of Lecter’s from his earliest macabre work: a terribly disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) whose lust for revenge, old money and government connections allow his reach to extend far and wide. In Europe, the sly Lecter tries to avoid arrest by a rogue lawman hoping to collect a big bounty, Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini).
Only after the tables turn does Starling realize her only hope of surviving it all might be Hannibal.
Even though many things from the original Thomas Harris novel didn’t make it into the final product of the film, there is a still grisly, nasty heart at the center of its being. Some things removed: the novel’s ending; Margot Verger the lesbian bodybuilding sister of Mason; plus, Mason’s predilection for molesting children and drinking their tears; the original death Mason endures and the harvesting of his sperm for Margot to use to have a child with her lover; and other things such as the absence of Jack Crawford.
While a few things can be forgiven, I don’t know why they chose to keep Crawford out of it, nor do I see how the ending of the film is any better than that of the Harris novel. First – Crawford is an important figure in the life of Clarice, almost like a part-time angel watching over her shoulder and even more at times, so his absence is a little strange to me; I understand there were time constraints, however, Jack could’ve easily been planted into the story at the beginning especially when Starling experienced blowback from the FBI. Second – the ending of the film is fun, but there’s such a tangled, creepy and unsettling aspect to the Harris ending: in his novel, Hannibal first tries to make Clarice into a living version of his sister Mischa, then at the end they run away together in a fit of madness and love. Now, I know some weren’t fans of the novel’s ending. Regardless I found it perfect, to end things in a strange, unexpected way. But is it really unexpected? Can you say there were no inklings or hints of a romance between Hannibal and Clarice? Even in SOTL, there is a strange connection between them, almost like a man lusting after a woman who doesn’t yet know she’ll fall for him down the road. Either way, I think it could’ve potentially set up another film if Harris were ever interested in exploring more of the story. And not to mention, it would’ve blown audiences away to see Clarice take off in the night with Lecter.
Some things I loved.
Gary Oldman plays Mason Verger perfectly. If you didn’t know it was him by looking on IMDB or in the credits, there’s a high chance of walking away without ever knowing. Virtually unrecognizable under prosthetics and make-up, Oldman falls into an upper class accent mixed with disfigurement, religious fervour, as well as a great deal of charisma. There are times you want to like Verge. Others, you understand the nastiness in him while hating what it’s producing. Many times you’ll laugh at some of the bits of dialogue from Mason, though, not in a funny way – more so, it’s a macabre and dark comedy from his lips making us kind of root for him. Above all else, Verger is a conflicting character on moral grounds, which makes us lean back and forth. Similar to the character of Lecter.
Then of course, there’s Anthony Hopkins returning with vigour to the world of Hannibal. Giving us another go round with the naughty doctor, Hopkins is almost even quieter, more subdued, more sinister and unnerving than before. Much of the dialogue gives him a chance to twirl us around his finger, sucking each viewer into his evil nature and never once letting us go. Seeing Hannibal in Europe is impressive enough as it is. Add in a spectacular performance by Hopkins, you’ve got yourself an interesting ride along with one of the most well-known villains of the cinematic universe ever.
Aside from performances and characters, Hannibal is at times fairly vicious. Though, if Scott and screenwriter David Mamet were to have kept more of the original source material in the script, it could’ve fallen even deeper into horror than it did. But scenes like the impromptu dinner between Hannibal, Clarice and poor Paul Krendler, the brief flashbacks to when Lecter disfigured Mason, even a very short video of Lecter biting the nurse’s face (a scene only referenced in SOTL) – these are all great examples of horror in a non-horror film. Really, Hannibal is a crime thriller. Yet so many moments bring us into the horror of the Harris universe. I can’t fault Scott, nor Mamet, too much for excluding bits and pieces of the novel because it’s a thick book, lots of plot and plenty of dialogue. However, I would’ve definitely rated this movie even higher if Scott kept some things in. They didn’t have to be totally in tact. He could have only alluded to certain plot points, and so on. Alas, we’re missing some very meaty, properly hideous bits that augment the entire story, and the movie is lacking because of it.
Despite my criticisms, I love Hannibal. It’s a 4 out of 5 star film, all the way. Many will not agree with me and say the movie is trash, an unnecessary sequel, or that it strays too far from the novel of Thomas Harris. I couldn’t care any less, I’ve always thought there was something special about this Ridley Scott film. He adds only a flair all his own, a style nobody else has, and it’s evident right from the opening moments. Again, it would’ve been amazing to see more of the Harris novel find its way into the script, but for what came out I think Scott did justice to SOTL and the character of Hannibal in general, even without a few key pieces. If you’ve never seen it, or are a newcomer to the Lecter universe, do yourself a favour. There is plenty to love and enjoy here. Lots of macabre nastiness from which to find a thrill.