Ex FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) is dragged out of early retirement by his old partner Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to help in tracking down a nasty new serial killer who has struck down two families on two consecutive full moons. Crawford reckons Graham is the only man with the imaginative intelligence tuned to the so called Tooth Fairy – because he proved it with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) three years earlier. Now Graham wants the jailed Lecter, insane but brilliant, to help him out-smart the Tooth Fairy – Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), who believes he is the evil Red Dragon. (Based on he first of the Hannibal Lecter books - although the last to be filmed with Hopkins as Lecter. Manhunter  starred Brian Cox as Lecter.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It depends on you. Some people may find Red Dragon nail-biting stuff (my partner did) while others will deflate like a breeze-afflicted soufflé with ennui. Others, like me, will be torn between going along with it and resisting it. After all, how much Hopkins can a Hannibal take before becoming iced with the cold oasis of his gaze? It may be something to do with your level of cynicism; perhaps the more you have, the less you will surrender to the often coercive power of the script and the dead-sure direction. The book, which I read many moons ago, had a grip. It held your mind in a sort of black awe. Just what would-be Red Dragon Frank wants from people like the sleaze bag journalist Freddy Lounds (what a shame the profession has sunk so low it is natural meat for such carnivore authors). Red Dragon, with its bizarre baddie and well-known Hannibal Lecter, is easy prey for the snide, cyanide-biting film critic. Far more vulnerable than the novel by its visualisation (with the novel we are the interior filmmakers), it hangs on the thread of a possibility: do we go along or do we resist? Like I said, it’s up to you. You can ridicule it and blast at it with psuedo intellectual angst, or you can invest in it as a writer’s story - the story of a twisted man and the impact he has on several lives. The filmmaking crafts deliver in all respects, from cinematography to production design and prosthetics, from music to make up. The script accentuates the two stories: Hannibal’s first conviction and his subsequent relationship with his captors as storyline One; and the grisly, cold sober mad Francis Dolarhyde on a mission, as Two. They are linked by Ed Norton’s FBI agent. The performances that stand out are the showy ones, of course, like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wobbly little fart of a man, or Emily Watson’s blind femme fatale – irony intended. Edward Norton is reliably workable, internal though his work is, and Harvey Keitel judges his cop just right. It’s Ralph Fiennes who builds the tension and adds the texture. His edginess and complexity are the one big true thing in this film, and he propels the film with his awesomeness – just as Francis Dolarhyde does in the book. In the end, I went along.
Review by Louise Keller:
Bon appétit! Just like a splendid meal, Red Dragon satisfies – from its ripe recipe, inspiring ingredients, certified cuisine and palatable presentation. Who can resist the delectable push-pull temptation of spending a couple of hours with Hannibal Lecter? While Lecter is not the central character in this, Thomas Harris’ first tale about the cannibal who thrills with his wit and spit, Lecter’s persona towers over the entire film, embracing it like a black cloud settling in before the downpour. What a proficient creation from director Brett Ratner, whose previous projects include the Rush Hour films and The Family Man. The set up is delicious and by the time the opening credit sequence begins with Danny Elfman’s riveting score setting the undercurrent, the screen is a magnet and we gravitate compulsively to this chilling, shocking and depraved world. The script captures every nuance of the characters and the casting is consummate. I still marvel at Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, his delivery of even the simplest lines so memorable and devastating. Lines like (about time to spare, in his cell) ‘I have oodles...’ which he caresses as though he is savouring a vintage wine. I felt as though I was holding my breath for every second of his screen time. And wait for the scene in the high security prison, when Lecter is treated to a silver service meal. Edward Norton makes a wonderful protagonist, sharing Lecter’s insight of the criminal mind, yet remaining totally accessible. Their banter is thrilling. And what a fabulous performance by Ralph Fiennes, who takes us from shyly charming to callously deranged. His stillness and intensity are undeniable and his Red Dragon is a multi-layered, complex and totally credible character. Special mention to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose scumbag parasite journalist is so convincing and beautifully delivered, and Emily Watson, whose baby-face and persona endear us to her. By the time Will and Lecter try to rattle The Tooth Fairy’s cage, we are well and truly rattled too. I confess that I found the film so terrifying and absorbing, I manually removed every morsel of the nail varnish I was wearing. Considering the topic, there is minimal on-screen graphic violence; most of the damage is created in our imagination. Everything works – from Dante Spinotti’s cinematography to the considered production design. Red Dragon is an engrossing, gripping and truly terrifying psychological thriller. And at the end, when our repast is over, we are left wanting more, as the closing sequence cleverly lifts the lid on the next meal featuring a “beautiful FBI agent”. Are you ready for it?
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RED DRAGON (M15+)
CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman
PRODUCER: Dino De Laurentiis, Martha Schumacher
DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner
SCRIPT: Ted Tally (Thomas Harris, book)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dante Spinotti
EDITOR: Mark Helfrich
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kristi Zea
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 24, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: April 9, 2003