Red Dragon (2002)

Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes . USA. 2h 4m

There comes a time when every movie is going to be remade, no matter how cult or classic the original is. But did we really need this remake of the near perfect Michael Mann gusty thriller Manhunter (1986), Originally Brian Cox played the flesh eating doctor, but while his take on the now iconic doctor; is different from Hopkins laid back soft talker, Cox’s interpretation is very apt for the direction of Mann’s psychological dog fighting style. Is the Hopkins trademark on the character so powerful that he gets to shoulder his way through to complete his trilogy. Well, Dino De Laurentiis, producer of both Manhunter and Red Dragon and effectively the Lecter copyright holder, has decreed it. So Anthony Hopkins returns, for the final time, because after this he vowed never to play the role again and it’s not surprising as the task was given to Brett Ratner to facilitate, a director who can handle a fast paced popcorn action flick but really struggled with this type of deep psychological and powerfully cerebral thriller. If only this was an equally horrific sentimental comedy, like The Family Man, where Ratner would feel more at home.

Ratner’s film is set in a more modern time, so the original edge Manhunter is instantly lost, the sharp suited Will Graham is replaced by the whiney, shuffling Edward Norton who doesn’t have the same screen presence but follows through with the search of a wild psychopath known lovingly as the Tooth Fairy due to his oral fixations. After random families are brutally attacked and killed in their homes, it’s up with ex FBI detective Will Graham (Norton) to get into the head of the madman and try to piece his strange crimes together. Blow by blow Red Dragon follows in the footsteps of Mindhuner, at times frame for frame, or nearly.. There are few goofs where it seems a frame was missed and someone reacts to something that didn’t happen…

Graham was the perfect FBI agent until he ran into Dr Hannibal Lecter, their dangerous mentoring and showdown is fully acted out in flashbacks during Red Dragon and it’s both wonderful and shocking, mostly because of the not so cute ponytail the doctor sported back in the day, but these little tweaks and changes to the ending that align it better with the bestselling novel, are the little quirks which made the film palatable.

The stars are out in full force, Ralph Finnes plays the curious Tooth Fairy killer, seemingly based on a number of serial killers from Ed Gein to BTK, by day he’s a super quiet and mysterious photo lab worker, Francis Dolahyde like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who falls into a strange infatuation with a sweet natured blind colleague (Watson). Not a lot ruffles his feathers, as he meticulously picks out his victims and plans his almost perfect breaking and entering procedures. Meanwhile Graham dashes around piecing together clues and attempting to get into the mind of the killer to somehow line being to think like him and work out his next move. During all this thinking and brainwork and clever detective work the show is stolen by Philip Seymore Hoffman who plays a slimeball newspaper reporter who’s used by the FBI to try an coax the killer out by reporting on his potential bed wetting, and in the tense scenes which follow were gatecrashed by Anthony Hopkins who turned up on set whenever Hoffmas was acting, and considering the two never share a scene together that’s some serious admiration that was going on.

Before the Silence…

In Between a strange romance and FBI crime lab looking at pen marks and researching photos, there’s not a lot which wasn’t already offered up, a few extended scenes to shoe horn some extra Hannibal into the story, but the play off against Norton isn’t thrilling. After years of worshiping Manhunter this feels a little disorientating, but at times it gives a different angle on the story, possibly something for a new generation? I know the film wasn’t made for me or any other fan of the series, moving from contemporary to an extended CSI episode it speaks more of the how than the why. Lecter is forced into the film as much as possible and really the story isn’t ABOUT him.

There’s a missed opportunity to bolster the film with an amazing soundtrack, and forgetting to engage with the existing audience is a classic mistake of someone who’s not 100% sure about what they are doing, in all honestly while I don’t see the point in remaking the film even if its a chance for Hopkins to put his name next to all titles involving Hannibal, in the hands of a serious and experienced director who’s willing to let this atmosphere of this brooding story work it’s magic rather than try to rush it into a speedy blockbuster, there is scope of turning Red Dragon into something much more darker and dangerous, but maybe that will have to wait until next time or maybe I could just put Manhunter in the player yet again.

Rating: 3/10

R: Manhunter (1986), Silence of the Lambs (1991) Hannibal (2001) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
L: Did we really need this remake
5s: Anthony Hoptkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ralph Fienns,
Vs:Manhunter Vs Red Dragon
Post Discussion

One thought on “Red Dragon (2002)”

  1. Great review. Ratner’s directing efforts are wildly all over the map, and it seems he was trying to make a “better” film than Mann…instead, he showed what happens when you are in over your head, in my opinion.
    Love the wide variety of films you cover!

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