What makes a good fictional character? Many times, it is the mystery. Certain characters are better left unexplained. Why do they do the things they do? We may never know and we may never want to know. That is what makes them interesting. These mysterious characters also work best when they are not the focal point of a story. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one of those characters. What makes Hannibal-the-Cannibal such an intriguing character is the fact that he never has a motive. His killings are indiscriminant and purely for self-fulfillment. The character is shrouded in this aura of mystery, and that is why moviegoers keep returning to the theater.
After the masterpiece that was “The Silence of the Lambs,” we were treated to “Hannibal,” which was not so much a bad film, but a misguided one. It kept the character shrouded in mystery, but developed him. “Red Dragon” was next in 2002, a remake of 1986 film “Manhunter.” This prequel to “Lambs” was the closest to capturing the suspense and mystery of that masterpiece.
Now we are presented with “Hannibal Rising,” the film which is supposed to explain the origin of Dr. Lecter’s madness. However, this film gives Lecter a motive, something we do not want. It destroys the characters mystery and, in a sense, degrades the quality of the character as a whole. This film is certainly an unsatisfying final chapter to the Lecter series.
While the film does have some great performances, it lacks the intrigue and suspense that made its predecessors enjoyable. After about an hour of the film, the story loses focus and begins to fall victim to “sequel syndrome” (even though this is a prequel) where everything must be ludicrously over-the-top, resulting in this mundane claptrap that is hardly worth any patron’s time.
The story follows Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) from his days in Lithuania, where he witnesses the murder of his family, to Paris where he is reunited with his aunt (Gong Li) and begins medical school. Along the way, we watch as his memories torment him in his sleep and cause him to awaken screaming in the night. He becomes engrossed in the study of human anatomy, but he concentrates more on finding those who killed his sister. When he does find them, gruesome killings result.
The plot of the film is easily forgettable. The story makes Lecter appear more like the Punisher or Batman, dishing out justice as opposed to killing the guilty and innocent alike. His murders appear vengeful in the film, as opposed to random like in films of the past.
Director Peter Webber fails to capture the suspense of the past films and the plot, which was written by Thomas Harris who also wrote the book, leaves much to be desired. When envisioning Lecter, what comes to mind is a cold-blooded killer, not some tortured soul or vigilante out for revenge.
Worst of all, there are no twists whatsoever. Sure, there are certain shocking scenes, such as where we see Lecter eat the face of one of his victims, but for the most part there are no surprises. Even “Hannibal” had Lecter turn on an investigator and disembowel him. There is no intrigue this time around, no shocking surprise awaiting us. Everything is spelled out for the audience.
Script and direction aside, there is one praiseworthy element. Ulliel’s portrayal of Lecter is great. While nowhere near as brilliant as Anthony Hopkins, Ulliel brings a new dimension to the character. However, he is compromised by a poor script which hinders his ability to truly bring the character to life in the way that Hopkins did.
“Hannibal Rising” is the sour-point in what began brilliantly. “The Silence of the Lambs” is arguably one of the best films ever made, but since then, there has been nothing but disappointment. “Hannibal Rising” is the final nail in the coffin, so to speak. A film centered solely on Dr. Hannibal Lecter, however, could never work because, let’s be frank, the character works better when shrouded in mystery than when he is brought to the forefront.