Imagination is what sets them apart from a thousand other movies in the same genre. Not quite as disturbing as “Silence of the Lambs” and nowhere near as comical as “Hannibal,” “Red Dragon” (based on the novel by Thomas Harris) is thoughtful and gripping from beginning to end.
The premise is simply this: Agent Will Graham has retired due to the extreme trauma of catching Hannibal Lecter. FBI Chief Jack Crawford persuades Graham to come back temporarily and offer his input on the case of two families murdered in their homes a month apart under the exact same circumstances.
The plot thickens when Graham must consult Lecter’s expertise. The movie wastes no time in setting this up-leaving the bulk of the movie to develop the “Red Dragon.”
We begin and end the movie with Lecter-and his input does move crucial moments of the plot-but it almost seems as though this frame is set up merely to distract us from the fact that this movie is not about Lecter at all.
To some extent, this movie is about our hero, Will Graham, and his pursuit of a killer despite his own fears and the danger to his family. More so, I believe, this movie is about Francis Dolarhyde, aka ‘D,’ the Dragon himself (Ralph Fiennes).
In a way not possible in “Silence of the Lambs,” we really get inside our villain’s head. We learn something about his life outside the killing. This killing is secondary, even, to the portrait of the man.
Primarily, however, this is a movie about battling inner demons. Both our hero and our anti-hero are struggling to overcome something that haunts them even in dreams. For this reason the viewer is led to sympathize with them both, placing us within a moral and logical quandary.
As the characters wrestle, so must we wrestle. This produces an acute tension, the dispelling of which is something akin to ‘catharsis’ in the most classic sense of the word.
Norton occupies his part brilliantly, and Hopkins’ powerful charisma further disguises the marginalization of his role in the film. Better still, Fiennes gives us the first villain since Lecter himself to whom we can be simultaneously drawn and repulsed. “You owe me awe,” he says-and, to be sure, he gets it.
The supporting cast does not disappoint either: Anthony Heald, reprising his role as the effete and utterly unlikable Dr. Frederick Chilton and Harvey Keitel, picking up the role of Jack Crawford, operate more than adequately despite the shallowness of their characters in this film (as opposed to in “Silence of the Lambs”).
Philip Seymour Hoffman is disturbingly real as the slimy, unsubtle reporter, Freddy Lounds. But the real treat is Emily Watson, playing the unsuspecting but by no means naïve blind woman, Reba McClane, who is the Dragon’s romantic interest.
Fine acting, brilliant writing, rich, believable characters and expert timing come together to form this marvelously well-crafted piece of work. But I don’t want to spoil anything for you, and the best parts of this movie are the surprises. So, put down the paper and go see it.