Red Dragon Reviews
The first adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon was Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter, a film which I must admit I am not fond of. I found that though the source novel was somewhat average, its most interesting aspect was the antagonist Francis Dolarhyde. Unfortunately, the performance of Thomas Noonan was too subtle to convey the insanity of the character. And at the same time, William Petersen hardly stood out Will Graham. It was only Brian Cox who made a true impact as Hannibal Lecter, and even then he never held reached the standard of Anthony Hopkins' Academy Award winning performance as the same character. Frankly, I'm glad that someone decided to adapt Red Dragon a second time and to do it with Anthony Hopkins because The Silence of the Lambs proved that the story really needed to be told once again, and since the story was a prequel written beforehand and long before Hannibal I figured that the story would hardly feel obligatory even if the adaptation did.
The story begins by depicting the events that led to Will Graham ultimately bringing down Hannibal Lecter, and this gives me mixed feelings. As much as the scene is sttylishly made and intense, it feels a little too conventional. Thinking deeply about it, the events that occured between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter were better left to the implications because the mystery of what happened between them the process of reading Red Dragon left me inquisitive about the mystery whereas seeing it before the rest of the story unfolded on screen proved to be very conventional for a thriller, ultimately starting the film off on the wrong foot due to a sense of familiarity in the convention.
That sense of familiairty carries over into the visual style. Much of the imagery in Red Dragon feels similar to that of Manhunter, with the colour scheme in many scenes reflecting the same sort of heavily tinted nature Michael Mann's adaptation was iconic for. As much as thisis stylish and does work to the benefit of the atmosphere in Red Dragon, it makes the film feel a little too familiar. But as well as this, the scene where Will Graham walks down the prison hall to reach a chair seated outside the cell of Hannibal Lecter feels all too much like when Clarice Starling did it in The Silence of the Lambs. As much as Brett Ratner structures Red Dragon with a competent style, it feels like he has borrowed elements from both Michael Mann and Jonathan Demme's adaptations of Thomas Harris' novels to tell his story. The familiarity may appeal to fans just as much as it deters others. However, as the film gets in so much deeper with the story I completely lost sight of this notion and instead was just happy with the genuine manner which it was being depicted in. In that regard, Red Dragon boasts a lot of credibilty based on the solid nature of its high production values which are captured with incredibly intense cinematography techniques. The amount of close focus that the shots take ensure that there is a lot of imagery fuelling Red Dragon, and since so much of it is violent content this can prove striking. But it is never excessive, it is an absolute necessity as a means of capturing the grim violence of Thomas Harris' tale. Frankly, the visual style has a lot of appeal largely because the colour scheme proves to iluminate a sense of light in the monochromatic colour scheme of the production design. This means that things are grim and yet appealing at the same time, a surprising balance. The intense musical score also helps to add to the atmosphere, keeping it consistent.
And the whole time that the visual experience distracts viewers, the story is actually building up very well. The screenplay takes a little while to take off and get insightful as it is a little conventional when anyone who is not a serial killer is speaking, but it truly maintains the meaning of its source material. As the tale progresses and becomes more about the investigation, the feature changes course. The manner in which the script breaks down the investigation of Francis Dolarhyde's movements is very well done because it explains everything in a competent language without being too complicated or simplistic. Yet the value of the screenplay lies more in its storytelling than its dialogue because it actively brings over everything from Thomas Harris' novel in terms of story and characters which Brett Ratner handles exceptionally well. Film adaptations of novels have a tendency to eliminate plot points from their source material as a means of fitting into a limited time frame, yet Brett Ratner effectively maintains everything I could have asked for. Ultimately, the intense experience of Brett Ratner's adaptation made me realize just how much was packed into the novel because he made it all come alive exceptionally well. After an inconsistent first act, this realization occured when Ralph Fiennes came around. When the film begins to depict Francis Dolarhyde on screen, it takes a powerful turn. My favourite part of the source novel was its characterization of Francis Dolarhyde, and I feel that both Brett Ratner and Ralph Fiennes did a far better job exploring the character in Red Dragon which ultimately proved that the adaptation was necesarry, not obligatory. The more that Red Dragon got into the mind of Francis Dolarhyde, the more that it got int my head as well. And the extent of power in the atmosphere was so intense that it left me on edge from there on for the rest of the film.
Everything good about Red Dragon combines during its second half to make it powerful, and the cast are a major factor in this.
As much as I respect and admire the talents of Edward Norton, I feel that he is miscast in Red Dragon. Edward Norton plays Will Graham as a little too naive. It seems more like he is trying to play Clarice Starling than Hannibal Lecter because as well as being a young actor, he conveys the wrong kind of vulnerability. While Willian Petersen wasn't perfect as Will Graham, the consistent monotony of the character felt more appropriate to convey his damaged status as a homicide detective being dragged back into a reluctant career like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III. Edward Norton doesn't convey the grit of a damaged person in the part, rather playing more of an archetype as a determined but reluctant investigator. Edward Norton delivers his lines with swift progression as they naturally come to him and his physical involvement in the part is powerfully consistent, but ultimately his effort seems generic and is sporadically strong at best. The only truly powerful moment came from the fina scene in thefilm where Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes share the screen, forcing Edward Norton to put maximum conviction into his effort as a means of conveying the manipulative tactics used to fight the mind of Francis Dolarhyde. The fact is that Edward Norton has his charms, but ultimately his efforts are too conventional and the film's genuine characterization of Will Graham is rather simplistic.
Luckily, as the film focuses on both Will Graham and Francis Dolarhyde, the film does not force Edward Norton to carry the film on his own. Ultimately, it is Ralph Fiennes who doesn't steal the screen but rather sinks his teeth deep into it. When Ralph Fiennes first appears on screen, he is immediately an enticing presence. After lifting heavy weights and showing off his muscular ams, Ralph Fiennes appears covering his face with a tightly rapped piece of fabric and putting fake teeth in his mouth. By this point we have not discovered his identity, but already he has sent chills down my spine and made the atmosphere in the film. When he begins to speak it first seems like his voice and manner of speaking is a bit similar to that of Anthony Hopkins are both English actors with that natural charm to them, but in no time we see the full extent of his performance. It's impressive how comfortable the actor is in the part and how when he appears naked it seems all too natural to the character, but the manner of which his genuine insanity is so instinctive is what is truly striking. When Ralph Fiennes becomes The Red Dragon, he delivers a thoroughly convincing transformation, and when he says "I am the dragon!" I truly believed that he was. From there, Red Dragon became largely about the fight between Francis Dolarhyde and his alternate identity. The focus on the story is all about him, and Ralph Fiennes earns that status with what develops into a picture-perfect performance of the best character from the source material. When Francis Dolarhyde bit off Freddy Lounds' lips, I was truly terrified. This is the penultimate moment that separates Ralph Fiennes' performance from Thomas Noonan's because the relentless extent of the character's sadism is captured perfectly, proving that Ralph Fiennes' performance and Brett Ratner's directional style work together extensively well. Ralph Fiennes is perfect as Francis Dolarhyde, proving once again just how incredibly he can play an antagonist.
And of course, Anthony Hopkins is brilliant in his third portrayal of iconic villain Hannibal Lecter. Having lost no charisma since he first started ten years prior, Anthony Hopkins remains as scary as ever. Anthony Hopkins has a cold, deadly stare which penetrates the screen and stares into the soul of viewers which makes him a powerful presence from the first second, reaching out to audiences to bring them into the story. Part of me was concerned that Red Dragon would put too much focus on the presence of Anthony Hopkins as the man has an Academy Award for playing the character, but in actual fact most of the focus was on him from the lesser part of the story before it focused on Francis Dolarhyde. The relentlessly sadistic passion that Anthony Hopkins puts into his role carries Red Dragon through some of its slower moments, with his line delivery being intimidating in its intelligence and manipulation. Anthony Hopkins once again only has a small period of screen time and yet he makes such a big impact that it feels like much more, and he brings powerful chemistry out of his interactions with the cast around him, particularly Edward Norton.
Emily Watson makes a memorable performance. With such extensive dedication to her character, she captures the physical nature of Reba McClane excellently with a stare so convincingly aimless and blind. The blind nature of the character is so important and Emily Watson does not have to hide behind glasses to convey this, playing the part in perhaps the best blind performance I have seen since John Malkovich in Places in the Heart. She puts so much emotion into the blind woman that she transcends what was written on paper, conveying an emotionally complicated and very fragile woman who is very passionate as depicted through her passionate chemistry with Ralph Fiennes. Emily Watson takes a very strong stance in her role, beyond any expectations I had for the character when reading the novel, and her passionate dramatic charisma is just wonderful.
The voice of Ellen Burstyn during her brief appearance is also powerful. I knew instantly that I recognized the voice and was drawn into it, and Ellen Burstyn did a powerful job with only a few words.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is also a welcome presence.
So although Red Dragon has a stiff start due to its familiar style and plot points, it proves to be a powerfully intense adaptation of its source material with exceptional directorial work from Brett Ratner and powerful performances from Anthony Hopkins and especially Ralph Fiennes.
FBI agent Will Graham questions the cannibalistic asylum patient Hannibal Lecter on his information on the mysterious serial killer and rapist known as The Tooth Fairy. As Graham grows closer to discovering who this is, The Tooth Fairy himself battles his psychologically broken past and his relationship with a blind woman.
Red Dragon is great, but it doesn't hold the same spotlight its original did. There's something about it that doesn't come off as thrilling as the first, with less Hannibal and more of its real antagonist. The cast of characters is entirely new, the best being Fiennes' portrayal of the madman The Tooth Fairy - the scenes of him battling himself psychologically and recalling his abusive childhood is astonishing to behold. Red Dragon could have used more of its former breakout star and more thrills than typical jumpscares, but it is extremely good.