Movie Review: RED DRAGON

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red dragon

“Remarkable boy. I do admire your courage. I think I’ll eat your heart.”

  • A set of grisly murders brings FBI Agent Will Graham out of retirement and puts him in search of an atrocious killer who’s driven by the image of a painting. Yet his only means of survival and success are to seek the help of another madman, whom he himself captured: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Marked by past scars and quickly running out of time, Graham finds himself tangled in a heap of madness, sacrificing his work, his family, and above all his own life, to put an end to pure evil.

After the success of the movie Hannibal, which followed Dr. Lecter after the events of Silence Of The Lambs, I guess the suits in Hollywood decided to strike while the iron was hot, and crank out the movie version of the novel that started it all, Red Dragon. Only, as I mentioned in the Silence Of The Lambs review, it already had a film adaptation, under the title of Manhunter in 1986. And by “crank out”, I mean that this movie was released a year and a half after Hannibal was out. I didn’t care. Anthony HopkinsĀ and Edward Norton in the same movie? My butt was in the theater opening night.

So then, after a flashback of sorts showing how Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins! but, you knew that) was captured by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton!) back in 1980, a traumatic night which resulted in Graham retiring from the FBI, he’s visited several years later by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel!) at his Florida home. Seems there’s a new serial killer, nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, who has stalked and killed two entire families during sequential full moons. Another full moon is coming up in a couple of weeks, and they want Graham to head up developing the killer’s psychological profile. Turns out, the Tooth Fairy Killer is a film developer named Francis Dolarhyde, who carries out these murders at the behest of an alternate personality called The Great Red Dragon, who turns out to be a fan of William Blake paintings. Well, one in particular. He goes so far as to have a back tattoo based on that painting, which I have to admit is rather impressive, butt crack shot or no. He believes that every victim he murders brings him closer to becoming the Dragon. We get some allusions to his abusive upbringing at the hands of his grandmother, so that may have something to do with all of this cosplaying gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, a sleazy tabloid reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman!) is hounding Agent Graham for information on the killer to use in his paper, which Graham decides to use to his benefit, and gives an interview that deliberately trolls The Tooth Fairy in an attempt to anger him out of hiding. Which works, kind of…because next thing you know, the tabloid reporter is kidnapped, super-glued to an antique wheelchair, and tortured by the Dragon to record an apology, then bites his lips off, sets him on fire and wheels him down to the police department. Kind of a surprise side romance develops between Francis and a blind coworker (Emily Watson!), which doesn’t set well with his alter ego, as he is compelled to kill her. Bro’s before ho’s, and all that. With Graham closing in on the killer, Lecter decides to have some fun by giving the address of Graham’s family to the Dragon, thrilling spine-chilling action and intrigue ensue, and Graham sails off into the sunset with his family. Literally.

I remember leaving the theater with a warm satisfied glow after watching Red Dragon. It had shades more akin to Silence Of The Lambs rather than Hannibal, as the character of Dr. Lecter was more of a periphery character that shown brighter than the main antagonist, as far as movie villains go. The Francis Dolarhyde character was definitely one of the better sympathetic villains in the movie, what with his capacity to actually care for someone, and his tragic back story. This, of course, doesn’t excuse the utterly horrific murders that he’s committed, insanity plea or not. And believe me, this guy is way more chilling than Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs.

As always, everyone does a great job here. Loves me some Edward Norton in my movies, and he’s great as ever as Agent Graham. I can understand the decision to go with Harvey Keitel as Agent Crawford, as it’s pretty well known that some of the things that Scott Glenn did while preparing for the character in SotL pretty much scarred him for life, and he didn’t want to reprise the role. And although the role was a brief one, Philip Seymour Hoffman was excellent as the sleazeball tabloid reporter. Also, this movie may be the reason I have a slight fanboy crush on Emily Watson.

Overall, I rank Red Dragon right up their with Silence Of The Lambs, and, like that one, I tend to watch at least once a year. It’s a fantastic movie. Highly recommended.


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silence of the lambs
Orion Pictures

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

  • Clarice Starling is a top standout at the FBI’s training academy. Jack Crawford wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

Silence Of the Lambs. The classic psychological thriller crime drama that has transcended to iconic classic. It was also the movie public’s second introduction to the character of Hannibal Lecter, the first being in the movie Manhunter in 1986. I had no idea of any of this when I walked into the Cinema 3 theater back in my Junior year in high school, when this movie was originally released. I wasn’t even aware it was based on a novel that was written years prior. I went in completely cold. I walked out…well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

We begin with watching trainee Clarice Starling running through a calisthenics gauntlet at the FBI Academy, when she’s pulled by Jack Crawford of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit. She’s assigned to interview Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a former psychiatrist with a rather gruesome gastronomical hobby. They’re hoping that she’ll be able to convince him to help catch a psychopathic serial killer that was nicknamed “Buffalo Bill”, the latest in the Ed Gein-style wackadoos (with a splash of Ted Bundy) who kidnaps young women and then removes the skin from their bodies. The latest kidnapping by Buffalo Bill happens to be the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin. After employing the scientific method of “playing with her head like a drunken kitten”, Lecter eventually agrees to provide information in exchange for a quid pro quo from Starling, offering clues about Buffalo Bill in exchange for personal information. Meanwhile, the Senator’s daughter is alive and kept in the pit of Bill’s basement, being starved to loosen her skin up, and beset upon with chilling catch phrases that will haunt the minds of everyone who has watched this when walking down the skin lotion isle at the drug store. There’s also what is famously known as a “man-gina” scene, so this movie is just chock-full of mentally scaring material. The FBI follow up some false leads, Hannibal Lecter manages to escape his imprisonment in the most gruesome way possible, and Clarice pretty much stumbles into her victorious nabbing of the Buffalo Bill killer and saves the day. Oh, and the Senator’s daughter is also still alive. Then, while celebrating her being made an official FBI agent, Clarice receives one last phone call from Dr. Lecter, who congratulates her, and mentions he’s having an old friend for dinner.

After first watching this movie in the theater, my first reaction was, “Huh. That was interesting.” I noticed I wasn’t as “disturbed” or “freaking out” like many of the other patrons at the movie that night, and when a couple of class mates noticed I was there as we were exiting the theater, one of ’em quipped, “Oh, crap, Case* was there. Were you taking notes?” This was probably my first personal suspicion that I may not normally view such horror and psychological terror the same way as “normal” people do. As a matter of fact, I was more amused by the gasps and little squeals of terror from the audience during that tense night vision stalking scene, than on the edge of my own seat.

Mind you, I was far from being that guy who was rooting for the baddies. I was firmly in the “Good Guy” party, rooting for Clarice to catch the guy. And I know that what Lecter did was bad, but I also had to admire his grace and style, especially his artistry and taste (no pun intended). And I also realize that this is starting to sound less like a movie review, and more like a psychological study on myself. I’m nothing if not self-reflective.

As far as the movie goes, yeah, I love it. I try to watch it every year or so. It’s one of my favorites. Also, this happens to be the one movie that I haven’t read the Thomas Harris-penned novel yet. Might have to remedy that, soon. Otherwise, Silence Of The Lambs is highly recommended, as it is a classic, in my not-so-humble opinion.

[*Case functioned both as my last name, and as a quirky nickname by my high school chums…ah, memories]