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starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel
screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris
directed by Brett Ratner
by Walter Chaw Because Thomas Harris's haunting novel of the same name is flawed in someone's eye, Red Dragon hacks and slices the piece with a rude imprecision that would inspire pop icon Hannibal Lecter to sharpen his carving tools. The picture opens with a ridiculous and awkwardly-staged Lecter backstory (meaning it plays like the rest of the Lecter additions) that gives a self-parodying Anthony Hopkins a ponytail in place of the self-respect to which he can no longer lay claim, bringing to mind the unwieldy cameos of Cannonball Run.
Because Michael Mann's haunted film Manhunter, the first screen adaptation of Harris's Red Dragon, is flawed in someone's eye, it has been decided for Red Dragon that Ralph Fiennes should play a role owned by Tom Noonan, that Emily Watson is a better Joan Allen, Harvey Keitel a better Dennis Farina, Ed Norton a better William Peterson, and Anthony Hopkins a better Brian Cox. The cruellest miscalculation, however (and each calculation in Red Dragon is a bad one), is the notion that director Brett Ratner--the newly crowned moron king of stupid movies for stupid people (Chris Columbus breathes a sigh of relief)--makes an ideal Michael Mann replacement.
FBI special agent Will Graham (Norton) captures genius serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) one night after a Greek tragedy of a dinner party--the genius, sadly, isn't bright enough not to leave a carefully annotated cookbook lying around for dimwit feds to stumble over. After licking his wounds in Florida with his lovely wife (a dreadfully wasted Mary Louise Parker, forced in the end into the Anne Archer pose), he's called back to action on the trail of serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (Fiennes), a photokem-worker blessed by the amazing incompetence of those hunting him. Confronting his demons, Will takes on an evil journalist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who photographed him in the hospital and of course the demon Lecter, whose every pronouncement by now is met with peals of laughter; the Disneyfication of mass murderers begun in Silence of the Lambs (which at least had a sense of style) reaches its astonishingly distasteful pinnacle here.
Its script heavily mannered and lacking in grace, its direction flat and geared towards the dumbest person in the audience (imagine various viewer surrogates in the film asking "Will, why does he do it?" and you're getting close), and filled with as many jump scares and musical stings as a generic teen slasher flick, Red Dragon represents the kind of filmmaking that aims at offending no one even though its subject matter involves rape, home invasion, murder, mutilation, possibly necrophilia, definitely cannibalism, and an alarming level of child violence. It relies on the kind of Deepak Chopra/Dr. Laura pop psychology that gives every mad-dog killer an evil grandmother (and dog-eared scrapbook) while reaching for artistry with unearned familiarity with William Blake (oft-invoked, never honoured).
Yet for all the pat answers that it massages in its empty pockets, Red Dragon provides nothing in the way of actual insight or illumination, content instead to wallow in the shallow end of telegraphed thrills and comforting shock-flick platitudes. There may be bad monsters in the world, it promises, but they live in giant abandoned nursery homes, unimaginably lush opulence, and a modern mental hospital that looks like the dank part of the Tower of London. Red Dragon isn't about the contents of your psychiatrist's closet (too much of the middle-class now goes to a shrink), nor is it about the ways in which your downstairs neighbour might be using his crawlspace--Red Dragon is about the triumph of the plebeian class: the heroism of the home movie as the key to the puzzle; the avenging angel of the mama bear protecting her cub and her den; and the reduction of loneliness to a malady suffered only by the deformed and the disabled.
Red Dragon is a film that never should have been made. It's as tasteless and revealing as Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot redux of Hitchcock--revealing not of the genius of the source materials (Harris's novel and Mann's film), but of the arrogance of the powerful and ignorant, that rising tide of the tragically ill-considered that mad prophet and poet Blake seems to have predicted circa 1795 in "The Song of Los":
The human race began to wither, for the healthy built
secluded places, fearing the joys of Love.
The disease'd only propagated.)
That Red Dragon is soulless, interminable, and ordinary was a fait accompli as soon as Ratner signed on. The great tragedy of the exercise, rather, is the jaw-dropping number of once-courageous talent (Hoffman, Fiennes, Watson, Norton, Parker, Keitel, even Hopkins, once upon an Elephant Man) who collaborated in its mindless, avaricious creation. Originally published: October 4, 2002.
by Bill Chambers If it's within the realm of possibility, I detest Brett Ratner even more than I used to after experiencing the 2-disc "Director's Edition" of Red Dragon. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks as nice as something imagination-deprived can, with an impressive range of contrast between toothpaste whites and blood-ink blacks. Colour separation is not hampered by Ratner's trite warm/cool filter scheme--next maybe Ratner will have a character wake up in a cold sweat from a nightmare (oh wait, he sorta does that here), or use "Brown-Eyed Girl" on the soundtrack. The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio lacks elegance, which some reviewers seem to appreciate; there is indeed much sonic activity, but Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal were all mixed with a better ear towards giving you the creeps.
In the interest of full disclosure, I shut off the DVD's feature-length yak-track by Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally about five minutes into Red Dragon. Prompting this armchair gong was Ratner's infuriating declaration that he "really chose the tone of the book" (outdoing his lunkheaded observation previous to that, "No one could mess [Red Dragon] up") in overseeing the various aspects of the production; no, you didn't, Brett, you fucking asshole--Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon is a thing of beauty, of searing humanity, a devastating work that's first among equals in Harris's canon. (If you haven't read it, do yourself a favour and click here with a credit card handy.) Composer Danny Elfman, meanwhile, contributes generally unenthusiastic comments to the gaps in his isolated score, and editor Michael Helfrich joins the returning Ratner and Tally for optional commentary over a section encompassing seven deleted scenes, four alternate scenes, and three scene extensions. The sole item of note here is that Frank Langella once provided the voice of "the dragon."
Also on the first platter, which is identical to the contents of the stand-alone DVD release out there, you'll find "Lecter's FBI File and Life History"--a text-based supplement that, like FBI agent John Douglas in his clip-clogged interview ("Into the Mind of a Killer" (8 mins.)), takes Lecter's fictional origins far too seriously. "Anthony Hopkins: Lecter and Me" (4 mins.) sees the thesp dissing his role in The Elephant Man, while "Inside Red Dragon" is a 14-minute promotional piece that begins with Ratner saying, "I'm gonna bring it back to where it began," meaning Lecter's saga--you'll note that most directors are gracious enough to use the pronoun "we" in these things, but not Brett "Auteur" Ratner. A teaser for this summer's Hulk precedes the film when you choose "play" through the main menu on Disc One.
Disc Two opens with "A Director's Journey" (40 mins.). Scored to music that belongs in a porno, it features Ratner mugging for cameras that followed him from pre-production until the premiere. His micromanagement of actors a little less in need of it than, say, Chris Tucker (Ratner suggesting line readings to Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins is an apocalyptic act at best) is almost as amusing as the blatant disrespect Ratner is shown by the cast in return, save Emily Watson, who is too classy to betray anything but diplomacy. "Brett Ratner's First Short Film" is a hideous, incoherent black-and-white morsel of NYU crap that would not be worth your time if it came with a voucher for a date with Naomi Watts, and the rest of the DVD toils in featurettes: "Visual Effects" is an antieducational 4-minute montage of shots before and after CGI manipulations; "Screen Application Tests" (12 mins.) is a compilation of lighting tests for hair and make-up with frequently unintelligible voice-over from Ratner, DP Dante Spinotti, and F/X supervisor Matthew Mungle; "Makeup Application" (1 min.) is an effectively gruesome glimpse at the prosthetic 'mirror eyes' complete with a viewer discretion warning; "The Burning Wheelchair" (4 mins.) is behind-the-scenes footage of Lounds's immolation; and "The Leeds House Crime Scene" (4 mins.) incorporates an interview with technical advisor Ray Peary of the L.A. County Sheriff's Office.
Teaser and standard trailers for Red Dragon and storyboard-to-final product comparisons for scenes 6, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 167, 168, and 169--in which every man resembles Dick Tracy--round out this summarily ridiculous package. Originally published: April 7, 2003.