Sidewinder’s View: “Hannibal” (2001) [SPOILERS]

I revisited Ridley Scott’s 2001 film Hannibal a few days ago. I’d seen it only once before.

A buddy of mine who paid money to see it during its theatrical run insisted it was the most disgusting movie he’d ever seen and nothing he ever cared to sit through again. I don’t know if he still feels that way, but the film’s violence retains its shock value, as does the surreal post-mutilation makeup for Gary Oldman’s character:

Enunciates his words rather well for a fella without lips, doesn’t he?

Fifteen years ago, I was underwhelmed by the picture. I enjoyed it up to a certain point, but found it lacking in suspense and character development. I wasn’t sure why, but, this time around, I figured it out: The character of Clarice Starling (now played by Julianne Moore instead of Jodie Foster) wasn’t really involved in the story.

Oh, sure, the character was involved in the plot, but, unlike the character in The Silence Of The Lambs, this time Starling didn’t really play much of a part in the story’s forward momentum. She was more passive than an active participant.

In Silence, the character was an investigator, propelling the story, but this time around, it seemed the plot was being advanced by the actions of the sinister Lecter and Verger (Gary Oldman) characters, while Starling merely hung out on the story’s periphery, waiting to be informed of new developments she could then react to.

This time around, once the Verger plot thread was wrapped up, I realized the movie ran out of steam. Not having read the source novel, I didn’t know how the story might conclude, but I never believed for a second that Lecter would get killed. Not when the only character positioned as being worthy of snuffing him out had been so poorly handled by the filmmakers.

I don’t know how to put this, except to say that, within this particular story, it would have been a cheat to allow Lecter to be taken out by this story’s Clarice Starling. The stakes didn’t seem high enough.

What? She’s going to kill Lecter to save Ray Liotta’s obnoxious, treacherous bureaucratic scumbag (but I repeat myself) from a fate he seemed to have worked overtime throughout the plot to earn? Come on. Never going to happen.

And never once did I really feel Starling was in personal danger from Lecter, so that was a bit of a suspense-killer.

Plus, the Starling character wasn’t really developed as someone we should root for to conquer the formidable Lecter. We just hadn’t spent that much, I don’t know, “quality” time with the character.

And while I’ve enjoyed Julianne Moore in other film roles (Short Cuts, Boogie Nights), she didn’t exactly win me over with her portrayal as Clarice Starling. Very chilly. Very perfunctory. Simply put, I didn’t believe I was watching the same character as the one Jodie Foster played in The Silence Of The Lambs.

I’ve read that Jodie Foster opted out of this project because she felt the source material was a “betrayal” of the Starling character, but, screenplay revisions notwithstanding, from a narrative point of view, her character just wasn’t that pivotal to the story this time around. In Hannibal, Starling felt like a supporting character in relation to Hannibal Lecter’s conflict with Mason Verger.

Once Verger was out of the picture, the story had nothing else to focus on but the less interesting plot dynamic between Lecter, Starling and the slimy Ray Liotta character (who was obviously Lecter Chow from the minute the character appeared onscreen).

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Things became incredibly predictable from here on out: Liotta was a goner…Starling would try to stop Lecter and be powerless to do so…while Lecter would make yet another escape.

 

When it was all said and done, Hannibal was Lecter’s movie…which makes sense, after all, because it was named after that particular character.

Upon second viewing, I found Hannibal not horrible, not even the most disgusting movie EVER, just…severely underwhelming.

Same as last time.

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