Red Dragon
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Red Dragon

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At the end of the 19th century the focus of the world was taken in a direction that would persist and even intensify to today, the fascination with serial killers. Serial killers, the perverse individuals that are able to kill in cold blood again and again. With the advent of the motion picture this fascination could be manifested in a vicarious indulgence that film offers. After all, no sane person would commit these heinous acts but for a few dollars we can become voyeurs through the safety of movies. After all, the movie going audience has always loved monsters and there are none worse than the human monster, the type that may be setting next to you on a train or in the street. Red Dragon is the third installment of the saga of Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins). As those that have not been in isolation for the last decade you all know Lecter was a master psychiatrist that killed and consumed people he felt was too obnoxious for this world. As the film opens we get a glimpse of Lecter out of the confines of his prison cell, at the symphony. FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) has been consulting with Lecter on a particularly horrible series of crimes ironically enough involving cannibalism. Skip ahead a few years and Lecter is in his infamous plastic cage, Graham has taken early retirement and his old FBI supervisor Jack Crawford (now played by Harvey Keitel) has called him back for a new case. This new killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes) because of the dental pattern left on its victims has been increasing in activity and confounding the FBI. The story focuses on the personalities behind these three men. How their personal inner demons drove them to the predicament they find themselves in during the film. Graham with obsession with finding the killer to make amends for his past. Lecter is the perfect killing machine, with his professional ability to dissect the emotions of his prey before he literally dissects their bodies. Then there is the Tooth Fairy, Francis Dolarhyde. Here is a monster that finds his actions repugnant but cannot stop has they intensify. As the story progresses the interaction of the three men is not limited to shared scenes, the story itself weaves an intricate web that traps them. The monsters here often fail to see that they are monsters. They are able to find some justification with their actions possibly by submitting to their terrible nature. All three are intelligent men and the script permits them to show that intelligence. They are not the mindless killers that Hollywood has so long embraced.

For me this is a dream cast. I have been a long time fan of almost all the work of these three actors. All three of them have multiple Oscar nominations under their belts, Sir Anthony having also won for his first presentation of Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. With such a pantheon of acting talent this film sets the bar high and then exceeds it. Sir Anthony Hopkins was born to play this role. He owns it like few actors have ever owned a part. His Lecter is sophisticated, urban, and deadly. Lecter was best summarized in a line from Silence, ‘his pulse never exceeded 85 even when he bit out her tongue.’ Hopkins displays Lecter as someone in complete control even during the most unexpected circumstances. Norton is one of those actors that never fails to fully posses his characters. The audience can readily identify with him, something that helps to draw you into the film even deeper. His range as an actor is incredible. Here he shows us a very human cop that is just as obsessed as the man he stalks. Fiennes gives us the perfect counterpoint to Lecter with his portrayal of Dolarhyde. Here is a man that is as torn s Lecter is assured. In this film even the ancillary cast was perfectly cast. Keitel is one of those actors that does character roles with incredible precision. He is a chameleon that provides realism to every role he takes on.

As the director, Brett Ratner is in fine company for Lecter films. While most of his previous work is in more of a comedy vein, (the Rush Hour flicks and Family man), here he demonstrates a talent for darker subject matter. Red Dragon is a moody work, rich in dark atmosphere. His framing of each scene is full of ancillary details. This is definitely a film to see only in its original aspect ratio. The process of pan and scan will ruin this film. Ratner treats a little homage to the classic horror films exceptionally well. In one scene Dolarhyde confronts a blind girl. I could not help to be reminded of the classic scene in The Bride of Frankenstein where the monster meets the blind man. In both cases the monster is confronted by his repressed humanity. Excellent work, simply excellent. Ratner chooses a color palette that provides a reality to the film that is not so stark that the nightmarish nature of the film is not lost. He permits the audience an intimate view through the camera, an almost voyeuristic feel is provided to the film. I hope that the fame and recognition that followed the other Lecter directors is afforded to this deserving director.

The DVD production is just what a film like this deserves. The two disc set is the best way to go. The extra features will entertain you for many hours. There is a timeline of Lecter from childhood to present day, the FBI case file of Lecter, a profile of him and a director’s commentary that will help the viewer understand the process that was required by this film. Disc two continues the extras with a closer look at Ratner. There are his personal recollection of the film’s production, his first film school effort and his direction of the screen tests. This is a mini course in direction. The Dolby 5.1 audio is robust and creates a full, rich sound field. The speakers are well utilized and make excellent use of all six speakers. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is clean, providing a realistic color pallet and viewing of the slightest details of the film. This is a most have film that you will revisit often.

Posted 3/27/03

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