Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Hannibal (2001) ** 1/4

Directed by Ridley Scott. Script by David Mamet, Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Thomas Harris. Photography, John Mathieson. Editing, Pietro Scalia. Production design, Norris Spencer. Music, Hans Zimmer. Cast: Antony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Juliane Moore (Agent Clarice Starling), Ray Liotta (Paul Krendler), Gary Oldman (Mason Verger), Giancarlo Giannini (Police "comissario" Rinaldo Pazzi), Francesca Neri (Allegra Pazzi), et al. Produced by Mr. and Mrs. Dino Di Laurentiis and Mr. Scott. An MGM/Universal release. 131 minutes. R (for horrendous horror)

It's been ten years since "The Silence of the Lambs" attracted and/or pleased sadists, masochists, and many "normal" viewers.

It was the second Hannibal Lecter film, the first one being the good "Manhunter" (1986) directed by Michael Mann, with Brian Cox as Hannibal. "Silence" (1991) was directed by Jonathan Demme, with Anthony Hopkins as HL. In "Hannibal," made a decade later --but is set seven years after "Silence" -- Sir Anthony resurfaces.

He is older but not markedly so. He has not lost any of his suave madness, his canniness, and his vigor. But he did lose Jodie Foster, whose FBI agent is now played by Julianne Moore. Although JM, when not at work, is somewhat sexier than JF, her role is shorter and partly lost within the meanderings of the new movie. She is also more chic, with Gucci shoes, elegant dresses and a peekaboo outfit which, no doubt result from Lecter's sneering putdowns of her cheap outfits-- long ago, in "Silence."

All three films came from novels by Thomas Harris, all had major, talented directors. The current movie is bound to make a lot of money while raising a lot of critical eyebrows.

The plot, simply and simplistically sketched out. FBI agent Clarice has led a raid which left five dead. Newspaper headlines shout that she holds an FBI record for corpses (shades of Waco.) She gets unfairly reprimanded by her superiors led by a slimy, arrivistic Department of Justice apparachik (Liotta). The man also has it in for her because she refused his sexual advances. "Your badge and your gun" follows as she is temporarily suspended.

In a mansion to end all mansions (actually the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina) zillionaire Mason Verger (an unbilled Gary Oldman), horribly-plus (and then some) disfigured because of Lecter (don't ask), now wants to get the doctor, cook and eat him. He has an astronomic price on Lecter's head, alive but not dead, since he wants to cook and eat him. We later learn that he is employing some native thugs in Italy.

In Florence (Italy) Hannibal, in baroque splendor, lives the peculiar life of a scholar who badly wants the curatorship of a superb museum. He'll do anything to get the post and his other desires, from academic to extra-curricular. Lecter lectures (sic) impressively on literary, artistic and other germane subjects. How he got all that scholarship is a mystery. But then, the word "lector" meant, at least in Church Latin, "reader." We must assume that Hannibal practiced reading voraciously, that he was a polymath, that his I.Q. rose to stratospheric heights. Even so, in stretching our credulity this beats Tarzan's command of English.

When a high-ranking Florentine cop with an insufficient salary and a gorgeous young wife --always a dangerous combination-- gets wind of a mysterious source (but we know it is Mason) will pay three million dollars for the delivery of Lecter, Inspector Pazzi gets going.

The movie diversely canters, trots or gallops non-stop from one situation to another but is always on the move. A huge number of energetically timed setups and scenes, fast cuts and nick-of-time interventions amount to filmic shorthand in direction and editing. .

The best thing in the film is, for me, the splendid sights, sites and photography, notably of Florence exteriors and interiors which are genuine yet nothing like the city that locals and visitors know. It's often dank, forbidding, crepuscular, always splendid and arresting. Production designer Norris Spencer, save for his work on Scott's "Thelma and Louise," was unknown to most of us, as was cinematogapher John Mathieson until he shot Scott's "Gladiator, " Director Scott's own style is also obvious here, especially as "Hannibal"'s look has much in common with that of the nearly twenty-years old "Blade Runner."

Why Hannibal chose Florence puzzled me until I realized that the infernal doctor had chosen the city of Dante. Not only is "The Divine Comedy" lurking around, but Dante's "La Vita Nuova" shows up in a nice bit of opera composed by Patrick Cassidy. The excellent Hans Zimmer wrote the rest of the score.

Italian culture set aside, or better yet, woven into the film, the results are still pop pulp that tries to spook us. Fine. Lecter's old slurp-slurps and much of his anthropophagy have given way to a suspense thriller and detective story. Fine again, except that the story is so muddled and full of holes, so ambitious and bloated with obscurities, improbabilities, impossibilities. ludicrous and useless twists, that the desired shock effects are neutralized.

A pity. And there's nothing to replace the "The Silence of the Lambs" terrifying (but not physically violent) scenes of Jodie Foster conversing in prison with Lecter through a bullet-proof glass partition, and the growing ways in which those two affect each other.

Nothing exceeds like excess. "Less is more" was the revolutionary slogan of the Bauhaus school which introduced so much modernism to art and design in the 1920s, from buildings to kitchen tools.

Ridley Scott -- in the wake of his senior compatriot filmmaker Ken Russell -- must believe that "more is more." (Not an unexpected stance given Scott's background in advertising and commercials) Excess can be positive, as it was in Scott's "Alien" -- but with a non-sci-fi thriller Hitchcock's "sancta simplicitas" is a must.

Some attempts of humor are well hidden. We guess right away what will happen to Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi, but few will realize that Pazzi means "crazy" in Italian. And in the film's penultimate, gory and entirely unbelievable sequence of human cooking (in the Hannibalian sense) the camera briefly pans to the spine of a book -- "Vegetarian Times."

The movie's end is so ghoulish, extreme and scientifically phony that it is giggle-making rather than scream-inducing. It can't hold a candle to the increasing, real fears about mad cow disease. And the awkward, unsatisfactory final scene is so open-ended that it screams "another sequel is coming."

For a relative antidote to Ridley Scott's extremism, may I suggest that you watch his first feature, "The Duellists" (UK, 1977) a very good, visually stunning adaptation of Joseph Conrad's story set in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic times.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel