The newest installment of the Thomas Harris series, directed this time by Ridley Scott, late of "Gladiator," and written by David Mamet and Steve Zaillian, unfortunately shows the dread handiwork of producer Dino De Laurentiis, whose oeuvre includes such films as "Barbarella," "King Kong (the remake)," and "Desperate Hours." To be fair, he also produced the first Hannibal Lecter film "Manhunter," but then no one saw it. What De Laurentiis brings to his films is surface and noise. What he takes away is meaning and depth; and "Hannibal" is no exception.
Let's go back a moment to "The Silence of the Lambs," in which a brilliant and witty man, who just happens to enjoy killing and eating people, outsmarts normal human beings and gets away with it, though along the way he does help identify and catch a serial killer. Fear was the driver of the plot, a mental chess game with lives at stake, between the almost superhuman Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and the very human Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) that gave the film its unbearable suspense, with both agonizing death and elegant, almost Wildean wit never more than a moment away. We in the audience sat mesmerized on the balance point between horror and laughter.
Here in "Hannibal" we have a film of horror and gore, but no fear and no suspense. We simply watch a parade of deaths and maimings, but they have no weight, they carry no fear with them. Hopkins is back, of course, and the new Clarice is Julianne Moore, and both handle themselves well throughout. But someone forgot to write in - or else took out - what would have made the film memorable: the involving of the audience in the action. We are no more participants in the events than we were in "Gladiator."
It is ten years after "Silence," and Clarice, now running a major FBI operation, has a nemesis: her superior Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), who sees to it that she is humiliated by the operation's failure, and ultimately suspended. However, she gets word that Hannibal is back, now a docent at a museum in Florence. But an Italian police officer (Giancarlo Giannini) tries, against Clarice's warnings, to capture him for the reward being offered by an early victim of Lecter (Gary Oldman), and the rest of the film is the tying together of these strands.
Where the film fails is in its inability to involve us in the action. We're spectators in the stadium, looking down at the gladiators, hoping to find someone to care about but never getting close enough to feel emotion. If a film like this is to be successful it must grab us in some intimate place, hold us in its embrace, and take us down every road alongside its protagonist. Here, though, everyone is under glass, going through all the motions but never sharing them with us.
Still, the film has much to recommend it. Hopkins once again is a marvelous Lecter; he was born to the part. His killings, graphically detailed here, are brilliantly staged and lit by Scott and his cinematographer John Mathieson; and Lecter's final dinner party, doing a kind of honor to Clarice, is breathtaking; one of the great moments of horror in all film history. But it is not nearly enough to make up for the weaknesses that marred the rest of the movie.