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Hannibal is a sequel to Silence of the Lambs by way of continuing the Hannibal/Clarice Starling storyline. Stylistically, it's an entirely different animal, which is fine. Nobody could ever expect this movie to top the raw psychological mindscrew that was Silence. So, writers David Mamet and Steve Zaillian and director Ridley Scott went in a completely different direction, and came out with a success. Not a resounding, hands-down masterpiece, but a success.
This review may come off as a compare and contrast article, but it almost has to be that way, for the masses are throbbing with the question: "If I liked Silence, will I like Hannibal?" The answer is...uh, I don't know. There's not more of the same here, if that's what you want to know. Where Silence was focused, Hannibal is sprawling, dealing with multiple plots at once. Where Silence was restrained, Hannibal is forthright. This movie shows everything. Finally, where Silence garnered 5 major Academy Awards -- Hannibal will probably be lucky to make Roger Ebert's top 10 list.
That's not to say the differences are bad. Indeed, Scott keeps us continually enticed with his gruesome horror-thriller. The open and easily accessible plot keeps us rooting for people we probably wouldn't be rooting for in real life. The machinations of each character (and everybody here is machinating to some degree) are compelling and interesting. Hannibal doesn't go for sending creepy crawlies up your spine...it dives head first for the jugular.
The entire approach to the film is much more gruesome and gory. Silence and its prequel Manhunter both involved serial killers who worked in the dark, so the most you usually saw was the aftermath of their awful crimes. Dr. Lecter is a very open mass murderer, and we get to see his handiwork fully, down to every bloody drop. More often than not, this is just as explicit as your average 80s slasher film, but the direction and overall tone makes it much squirmier.
A plot recap at this point would be fairly pointless for those familiar with Thomas Harris's book, but then again, many people (like myself) deliberately avoided the novel so that the film would not be spoiled. How's that for screwed-up priorities? It's been 10 years since Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) first came into the spotlight for bringing down Buffalo Bill, and 10 years since Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) escaped from his cell. Now, Starling's a special field agent taking the fall for a botched raid, and Lecter is living the good life in Florence, Italy. Each could have conceivably gone on with their lives without a peep from the other, but then Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) steps into the picture. Verger is the only surviving victim of Lecter's original killing spree, and as a result of the cannibal, has a massively disfigured face. He is now plotting the ultimate revenge, and is using Starling as a pawn to get to his prey.
That's about as much as I'm going to give up at this point. There are a couple more subplots, but I think that I've given you the general idea. Obviously, a good deal of the film involves the hunt for Lecter by various forces.
One interesting change to the cast is the replacement of Jodie Foster (from Silence) with Julianne Moore. It's fairly easy to see why Foster chose not to play Agent Starling again. Silence's script offered her a great dramatic role to play, a proving grounds for her immense talent. Hannibal is more horror than its predecessor, and it not as concerned with getting into its character's heads. Moore, however, handles the role ably, making the transition smooth. The characteristic mannerisms that Foster instilled are still there, if slightly more matured. I'd say, for the money, that Jodie was better, but Moore isn't given the same kind of material to work with, so who can really tell?
Hopkins returns to the role of Lecter with great enthusiasm. He's much more blackly humorous here, always with a witty comment (usually with a double meaning). Sir Anthony seems to be enjoying himself on the screen, and I have to give him really high marks. Lecter is not a character that can easily carry his own film (occasionally the script groans while trying to carry out the task), but with the ease of a master, Hopkins (and thus Lecter) becomes a magnet on the screen, drawing our attention, even when he's just out of shot.
The cinematography in this film is splendid, from the beautiful shots of Florence to the tightly suspenseful (yet brightly lit) game of cat-and-mouse in the train depot. Director Scott (Alien, Gladiator) knows what he's doing. While this is nowhere near his best work (1982's Blade Runner, in my opinion), it's certainly above average.
The major fault with the film is the writing. I don't think this is as much Mamet and Zaillian's fault as it is Thomas Harris's. It has been said that in writing the novel "Hannibal," Harris cared so little for doing another Lecter book that he made it mediocre. Whether this was deliberate (in order to prevent anyone from ever wanting another novel in the series) or not is a point of debate, but the fact remains that the movie is based on what is generally considered to be a shoddy source material. Luckily, the script changed Harris's ending (which really didn't make much sense in the context of a certain character), so that we're open for a (very welcome) sequel, and everyone's basic nature remains unscathed.
One more minor qualm is a frightening number of continuity errors. One or two is acceptable, but I believe that moviegoers across the nation have picked up on over 20 in the less than half of a week that the film has been in release. That's just sloppy, and is inexcusable, especially for a normally polished helmer like Ridley Scott.
In the end, I must recommend this film. Go see it in the theater. Enjoy the pleasures the marvelous cinematography have to offer. Marvel at the force that is Anthony Hopkins. Have a good time (don't get too grossed out). It's a good movie, one that I think will have a significant life after this.