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Red Dragon (2002)
Director: Brett Ratner
review by Tony Lee
Best viewed as a prequel to Silence Of The Lambs (1991), rather than an unnecessary remake of Manhunter (1986), this new adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon lacks the cool style of Michael Mann's earlier version, opting for a less techno-fetishistic appeal and more blandly generic drama. Sequences of police procedural, detailing FBI agent Will Graham's investigation into brutal murders by the "tooth fairy" killer, simply don't have the level of energy or depth of fascinating intrigue as they did in Manhunter, and the too-frequent meetings with a sadly amiable Dr Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, as unmenacing as your grouchy granddad) reflect the gothic styling of Jonathan Demme's Silence, and Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001), ensuring Manhunter (its peculiarly mid-1980s' designer gloss setting it apart from the later franchised productions) is further displaced from consideration as part of this serial killer trilogy.
Effectively, yet quite unfairly, Red Dragon's stylistic resemblance to both Silence and Hannibal (there are more similarities than just narrative references, and the recurring presence of Hopkins) exiles Mann's modern classic detective story to a parallel universe of the cinematic realm, where the cannibalistic icon of Lecter is played by a frightening Brian Cox, and the threat of violence to Graham's family is less direct, yet more realistic and believable. As it contentedly repeats the plot of Manhunter with only a few crucial and hopelessly conventional twists, Red Dragon is certainly the lesser thriller. Edward Norton (Fight Club, 1999) is good as Will Graham, admirably underplaying his heroic role, but the decision to further explore the twisted mindset of villain Francis Dollarhyde (Ralph Fiennes from Strange Days, 1995) instead of re-examining Graham's past and present emotional traumas, feels like an unfortunate attempt to humanise the ill-fated monster (terrifyingly sinister as played by Tom Noonan in Manhunter), and weakens the film's mood, overall, by awarding the baddie too much screen time.
Manhunter scared us with its brilliantly calculated 'surface' style. Red Dragon is wholly predictable (whether you have seen Manhunter or not), but it's also unadventurous and rather ordinary.
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