60 – Hannibal

After nine years of waiting, finally the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs is upon us, descending for the masses to devour. The director this time is Ridley Scott, the Moses bringing to us this feast of horror that updates the characters of Special FBI Agent Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.

Gone is Silence director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally and star Jodie Foster, all of whom passed on this adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book. Some had better things to do, some objected to the violence in the book-sequel. In any event, the fact that these principles passed is no small item.

Julianne Moore takes on the role of Starling, the then-rookie FBI agent who worked with the serial killer Lecter to trap another killer, named Buffalo Bill. When Hannibal begins, Starling is disgraced in a botched raid and is suspended by her idiot supervisers. Stop me if you’ve seen this before: Dedicated law-enforcement official plays by the rules and is blamed when someone else ignores their orders. Yep, it’s a cliche. While Starling is suspended, she slowly becomes re-involved in the Lecter case, which ended in the last movie with him on a plane to who-knows-where. What’s he been up to all these years?

There aren’t nearly as many twists and turns in Hannibal as there were in Silence of the Lambs. Oh sure, you might say, but you can’t hold up the sequel to the standards of the original. Not entirely, true, but I also can’t completely disregard the original, since the sequel plays off it so often.

By now you’ve heard about the gore factor. By now, some of your friends might have told you what makes the movie so disgustingly gory. I won’t go into that here, though, just in case you haven’t heard. But I will say this: the gore you see isn’t particularly scary, just gross. There’s a big difference, and sadly the screenwriters couldn’t see it. In the original, and in many truly scary movies, the anticipation was scarier than the reality. You can show me a bloody corpse, sure, but show me our protagonist walking up to that corpse’s sarcophagus, step by stealthy step, with no music, just the sounds of her feet on the stones… and I’m scared to death. Silence did this; Hannibal does not.

Moore herself is a liability here, too. Sure, any actress would love this role. And sure, if you asked her, Moore would say she didn’t think she was replacing Foster, that she doesn’t feel the pressure of following an Oscar-winning performance. That’s hogwash, of course. And while Foster brought a sort of smoldering naivete to the role, curious but intelligent, solid but wavering in her own humanity, Moore cannot. It’s not her fault entirely, though. The character is about as deep as a puddle.

She’s not surrounded by the finest characters, either. Yes, Anthony Hopkins is great; he should be, it’s his role. But Ray Liotta as Starling’s RBI tormentor was way, way, way over the top. Remember that disgrace I wrote about earlier? Guess which character plays it off so that Starling’s the screwup? Yes, Liotta’s Paul. Why? I don’t know. Something about Your Bosses Never Believe You – and it looks as if that goes double if you’re a female. Never mind if you’ve put in 10 years as a straight-arrow agent; apparently, even if you do things by the book you’re wrong. Goodbye, Father Logic!

And the movie is so SLOW! Sometimes it’s a good idea to have slow moments, kind of like the anticipation moments in Silence. But this slowness wasn’t leading up to anything! There are just minutes of deadening silence in which nothing happens. There was enough boredom in this movie to put an entire preschool of hyperactive kids to sleep for a year. Chess matches had more action.

Silence had both horror and action. It had a robust plot supported by phenomenal performances. Hannibal has an interesting story, but it had at least one superfluous plot. It had no action and very little horror – and that horror was practically spelled out to you before it got there! Scott appears to have no idea how to stage a horror/action film – he was either moving things along incongruosly and incoherently, or he brought them to an immediate inexplicable standstill. Every ounce of excitement that had existed in Silence was completely evaporated.

For a movie with such a nice budget and all the backing in the world (not to mention all the great word-of-mouth anticipation), this should have been at least a decent movie. I came out of the theater feeling cheated and underwhelmed.

Hannibal: 4

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