Whether or not a prequel works in film depends on the film itself. Some you forget are prequels so it doesn't matter (Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom). Some use main or supporting characters as the common factor but the events of each film unfold and conclude within the film itself so spoilers aren't an issue (Angels And Demons). Some the ending is obvious but because it's on a grand scale, there are character fates you're still curious about (the Star Wars prequel trilogy). There are even some sequels that contain a portion of the movie devoted to the origins of characters/events before the first movie (Godfather Part 2 does this with great effect)
How is all this relevant? Well, for those of you who don't know, Red Dragon is the prequel to the monumental Silence Of The Lambs and it might just be the best prequel in the film world.
Perhaps fittingly, we begin the film with the capture of Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton). This sets up how attuned Will's instincts are as he theorizes that the serial killer he's hunting for at the time is a cannibal and this in turn leads to his apprehending Lector, though at the cost of psychological trauma brought on from the experience, which leads to him leaving his position.
Like Silence, Anthony Hopkins does not waste one second of screen time here and his presence is truly much more terrifying when he's locked away, for he relies on psychological profiling to get to you.
Edward Norton himself does a magnificent job trying to get into the mind of the serial killer dubbed the "Tooth Fairy" (Ralph Fiennes) and it should be noted that this is the first film I saw both these actors in and it made me want to view more of their work, the films which I have seen containing these two actors is of impressive quality.
Also appearing on my film radar for the first time was Emily Watson, appearing as Reba McClane. She is the calming influence on Ralph Fiennes' tortured soul of a character and some of their scenes together are some of the strongest.
Although it would take a few more roles to get used to him, Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a really good job here as reporter Freddy Lounds. When being confronted by the Tooth Fairy, his terror is extremely convincing. I wouldn't be surprised if other actors use this to research how to act afraid with conviction
(From here there are spoilers so if you haven't seen the film and still want to, it's best to skip ahead. Although I said up top that you know some main characters will survive the movie, I am about to discuss the final confrontation).
At the end of the film, Francis Dolarhyde (the Tooth Fairy's real name), makes his way to the home of Will and his wife and proceeds to attack their son. This final act is truly amazing as it works as a manifestation of bringing your work home with you, something officers of the law and government agencies often fear. While that's more along the lines of attitudes and ideas, here we have something tangible. The fears these people have in their jobs realized right here in the form of Francis Dolarhyde, who himself is defeated by fears of his own. Every Hannibal film uses psychology as a weapon against crime and a defense for the "white hats" to seperate themselves from their prey. This is much more evident here by invoking childhood memories to overcome the villain of the peice and finally defeat both their demons once and for all.
Ok, the VERY end of the film caused me to groan (Hannibal being told that a female agent is coming and he wants to know what her name is) but otherwise, this is an excellent film. If all prequels could be like this, we'd be a lot happier when it comes to prequels.
Before I close this review, I want to comment on the unusual circumstances of this film. It's both a prequel and a remake (of 1986's Manhunter) yet the book was written first and was the starting point for the whole series until Hannibal Rising came out a little while back. How rare it is to find a film that proves to be a worthy prequel, a remake that isn't dismissed entirely and a film that can stand on it's own so well and be all of them combined.