Some movies seem destined to split critical and public opinion, and Hannibal is a case in point. A follow-up to the well-regarded and hugely successful Silence of the Lambs, based (as was that film) on a novel by Thomas Harris, Hannibal currently has scores on Metacritic ranging from 0 to 90. It was a big moneymaker, however, due in no small part to a built-in following, but received mixed reviews. In truth, Hannibal is no Silence of the Lambs ,but offers a rewarding viewing experience if you like psychological horror films, and Anthony Hopkins is in fine form as Hannibal Lecter, a.k.a. Hannibal the Cannibal.
Hannibal picks up ten years after Silence. FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), unfairly blamed for a drug raid gone bad, finds herself once on the trail of Lecter. This assignment is the doing of Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, completely unrecognizable under a remarkable makeup job by Greg Cannom), who’s out for revenge after Lecter got him to eat his own face, and thinks Starling’s presence on the investigation will bring Lecter out of hiding. Lecter, meanwhile, is living the good life in Florence, where he’s passed himself off as a scholar and all-around bon vivant. When Lecter’s cover is blown, a local policeman (Giancarlo Giannini) thinks he can handle the case alone (does this sound familiar?), with predictable consequences.
The body horror comes early and often in Hannibal, while suspense is more often lacking. Ordinary killings and maimings would be too dull for a mastermind of Lecter’s genius, of course, and John Mathieson’s camera doesn’t shy away from showing explicitly what in a more artful film would be more often suggested. On the plus side, there’s some beautiful location shooting, a killer opening credits sequence, and some good acting in the supporting roles, including Ray Liotta as a slimy official in the U.S. Department of Justice and Frankie Faison reprising his role as the orderly Barney Matthews. Moore isn’t bad so much as she’s ordinary, but in fairness she has a lot less to work with than Foster did in Silence. But all of this comes secondary to the performance of Hopkins, who makes full use of the freedom offered his character now that he’s no longer confined to a high-security cell. He even gets a kicker at the film’s end that tops the “I’m having an old friend for dinner” moment from Silence.
Part of the appeal of the Hannibal Lecter novels and films is the complexity of the principal character, who is at once a reprehensible murderer and a moral force for justice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he only harms people who deserve it, but when it comes to extralegal righting of wrongs, he certainly has his uses. Lecter also has a talent for making the punishment fit the crime, so to speak, which is particularly satisfying, and Hannibal does not disappoint in this regard. | Sarah Boslaugh
Hannibal is distributed on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD by Kino Lorber.This review is based on the Special Edition Blu-ray, which comes with a strong selection of extras. These include an audio commentary by director Ridley Scott, a making-of featurette (75 min.), a breakdown of the Fish Market scene (48 min.), a featurette on storyboarding (7 min.), a featurette on the opening title design (7 min.), deleted scenes with commentary by Scott (33 min.), an alternate ending with commentary by Scott (6 min.), and a selection of trailers and TV spots.