“Horror” films are typically thought of as teen slashers or paranormal themed spook fests… but to me something like this film is far more horrific and terrifying. Hannibal is a sequel to Silence of the Lambs and picks up years after Hannibal Lecter has escaped from custody. The film follows him, a former victim of his, and Special Agent Clarice Starling as they all play this sort of cat and mouse game. My feelings about this film lean positive as it is well made, very well acted, and truly terrifying. But, it’s not without it’s problems.
We must begin of course, with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is an unbelievable talent. I don’t know if anyone else could have even come close to his performance. He is able to create chilling fear just by staring; he doesn’t even have to speak to strike terror into the audience. Hopkins plays Lecter in the best way possible, which is low key. He is always calm and the horrific atrocities he commits never phase him. The cold comfortability that he exudes is what makes him so horrifying. Just the thought of someone being able to experience pleasure from mutilation and cannibalism is disturbing enough, but to actually see it sends chills down your spine.
Jodie Foster of course played Clarice Starling in the first film, but since she turned this down, they went to Julianne Moore for the part. While Foster is fantastic in that role, I don’t want to discount Moore who is one of my favorite actresses and does a fine job portraying the Southern agent with an unshakable moral compass. She has the accent down and she plays her with a very believable/fitting demeanor.
Ray Liotta plays a supporting character, Starling’s boss, who is by no means likable. His character is a sexist, homophobic ass who becomes corrupted. I must hand it to Liotta. He does a fine job playing detestable men and he gives a valiant performance here. Him and Moore play especially well off each other. And last but not least, we have Gary Oldman who is completely and utterly unrecognizable for 95% of his screen time. Oldman does a great job playing this extremely damaged vengeful man who wants nothing but revenge. So the acting is very skilled across the board, especially from Hopkins.
The script isn’t great but includes enough good stuff to make for an interesting film overall. The area where it could’ve used a bit of work is at the beginning. In my opinion, things happen of substance but it does drag some. Once we get to the middle, things really ramp up and get good fast, but even though the beginning is a little slow, you must pay attention because there are set ups you need to have.
What the script undoubtedly gets right is the psychological terror inflicted by Dr. Lecter. The scenes between him and a European inspector are particularly fascinating because of the way Lecter plays with them and then eventually offs him in the most symbolic way possible. Lecter isn’t just an animalistic cannibal, he kills in imaginative ways and toys with the law in intentionally playful ways. He is incredibly knowledgeable and cunning but is also as depraved and soulless as a human could be. That combination is what makes him effective and interesting.
Most killers in slasher films are mindless, but not Lecter…. him being so smart is what makes him so dangerous and terrifying. Hannibal’s script makes this a priority and is better for doing so. The only things content wise that hold this film back are the beginning which drags a bit and going way overboard with the gruesome violence. There’s really only one thing violence wise I thought was just too much and those who’ve seen this know what I’m referring to. It’s at the very end and features Ray Liotta’s character. I like the idea of surprising audiences and I was ok with all the other violence except this final act, which I found to be unnecessarily disgusting. I did however think the ways of Oldman’s character were interesting and I liked how they used those ideas in the final act.
They really took advantage of atmosphere too. The Biltmore Estate was used for Hannibal and it gives the film an incredible boost. It gives the audience that grand cinematic feel and director Ridley Scott knows how to make great use out of a fabulous location. Speaking of Scott, I must commend for, like always, directing this film very well. There’s so many wonderful shots that you just want to stop and marvel at. The direction and cinematography here is top notch and everything looks beautiful.
Hannibal is a beautifully directed film that has quality performances, makes great use of atmosphere, and is genuinely terrifying. There’s really only two things that hold this back from being “great” and that’s the way too over the top gruesome violence at the very end and the somewhat slow pace at the beginning. All things considered, it earns a recommendation from me.