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Film Review: Hannibal

Lecture is back, but does he have cinematic bite?

A cheekily chosen Valentine's Day opening saw Ridley Scott's "Hannibal" roll into Irish cinemas with all the bluster and hullabaloo of that rare thing - a failsafe yet character-driven blockbuster. Sadly, the very thing on which the film sold itself, the cult of personality, modern cinema's most compelling personification of madness and badness combined, is the thing that sees it drown in a stodgy mire of possibility unrealised. Hopkin's Lecter, uncaged and at ease, becomes suddenly limited. What more can a psychotic cannibal do, after all, besides live up to expectations? The tone of the film never really rises above that encapsulated in the predictable smattering of cheep and cheerful "I eat human organs for dinner" quips.

Hannibal on his lunch breakHannibal is not, let me stress, without its thrill factor. Indeed, the film's first suspense-laden half ploughs ahead at a healthy pace. From this great height, however, it falls away into something altogether less substantial, leaving you feeling a tad cheated. Scott's visual mastery of the cinematic form (Blade Runner, Alien) allows Lecter free reign of a Florence steeped in beautiful old world atmosphere, while Irish man Patrick Cassidy's haunting aria "Vide Cor Meum" seems to languish in the knowledge of things to come. Here, as the refined curator of an art museum, one would assume Lecter's restless intellect to be quelled by the cultured environment he has sought out. There is, however, the question of his missing predecessor and hangdog detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giannini) unwisely sniffing out skeletons in the wrong cupboard.

Back in Hannibal's old Washington playground, FBI Agent Clarice Starling, played with suitably lock-jawed reticence by Julianne Moore, is discovering that the truly insurmountable evils of this world are to be found in corrupt bureaucracy. Unfairly and publicly lambasted for a gory FBI cock-up, she is duly exiled to badgeless civiliandom by a barrage of oh-so-bland "suits".

Unfortunately, the film never really allows Clarice to emerge from this netherworld of disempowerment. She is sent, from the outset, into a tailspin and left to charge clumsily through the narrative trying desperately to reclaim some semblance of order. Though Scott has claimed this sequel to be a free-standing work in its own right, the complex dynamics of the Lecter/ Starling relationship, so central to 'Silence...', are entirely absent here. A wimpy, drugged-up and dressed-up 'Bride of Frankenstein' plotline instead emerges. Were someone to encounter Clarice for the first time, she may appear a mere pawn in everyone else's game and the question might reasonably be asked; "why would somebody of Lecter's legendarily intolerant disposition be so fascinated by someone so spectacularly ineffectual?"

Ineffectual Gary Oldman is not, in his uncredited role as the obscenely rich Mason Verger. Scott's camera lingers on Verger's literally defaced visage wallowing in the sure knowledge of its devastating effect. In his days as revered psychiatrist, Lecter had convinced this drugged charge to cut off his own face and feed it to the dogs. Before we even know of his character's child molesting past, Oldman has managed to work up from beneath Verger's restrictive mask the distinctive whiff of evil. It is there in those soulless, greedy eyes and in his insipid, thin whine of a voice. Verger, whose power lies in his family's money, tells Clarice that he can, from time to time, bank on the co-operation of a willing senator or two. He duly manipulates her precarious position, via corrupt superior Paul Krendler (the ever-sleazy Liotta), to reel in his old Washington-bound nemesis for the intricately prepared kill.

None can fault Anthony Hopkins' sturdy performance, which he relishes and saturates through-and-through with electrified menace. Julianne Moore's potential is, however, wasted in this undernourished incarnation of Clarice and she is flanked on all sides by needlessly two-dimensional characters, not least of all Liotta's Krendler. The film's ending calls to mind Verger's wistful "it seemed like a good idea at the time" statement. All restraint is cast aside in a nasty carnival-style descent into pure farce. Needless to say, the way is left open for return-upon-return of this film's bankable namesake. Let's just hope that his next outing will see him bolstered on all sides by a script worthy of his potential.

Elaine O'Regan

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