red dragon
Universal
2002
R

“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.