Friday, July 20, 2007

Movie Review: Hannibal (2001)

Of all the movies in my DVD collection, the goriest and most brutal isn't a zombie movie, or a horror film. It isn't either of the three Saw movies (though those do come close). It's also not a war movie, though, again, Braveheart comes pretty close as well. As is the case with the most disturbing movie I've seen (which I do not have), it's a drama: Hannibal, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins for the second time as the cold, calculating killer, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, who first appeared in the award-winning The Silence of the Lambs, and would go on to appear in Red Dragon. There are two other Lecter films - Manhunter, a direct-to-video adaptation of Red Dragon in 1986 (and not featuring Hopkins), and Hannibal Rising, the prequel which came out last year, in which Lecter was too young to be portrayed by Hopkins.

Hannibal never throws too much violence or gore at the screen at any given time, and there isn't anything outstanding as far as that goes in the first half hour or so. Any younger viewers who wanted to see it might lose interest before coming to anything they might consider rewarding. But overall, it isn't lacking for statistics. We have at least one stabbing death, several by gunshot... and then it gets interesting. Two eaten alive by wild boars, one hung and disemboweled at the same time, and I can't even say what happens to the final victim. I could, but that's probably the best shocker.

A brief history: Lecter was born to nobility in Eastern Europe and grew up in World War II. His parents were killed in the war, and a band of rogues found the lodge he and his sister were hiding in. Faced with the choice to "eat or die", they killed, cooked, and ate his sister, who was no more than four or five at the time. Somehow he got away, ended up being raised by his uncle's Japanese wife, and studied medicine in France, and eventually psychology. The guy's a genius to the point of nearly being a savant, but insane, and has killed over a dozen people before finally getting caught. Even while behind bars, he still manages to kill a doctor or orderly who gets too close. And nobody wants to talk to him, because he can read people like a book, discover their secrets and use them against them. To his credit, Lecter only kills people who he feels deserve it, although this has included those he thought were merely rude, or doing a minor disservice, such as an instrumentalist in a symphony playing out of key.

Hannibal (again, the movie) opens, for the most part, with the one Lecter victim who lived, Mason Verger, a billionaire and child rapist Lecter convinced to cut off his own face and feed the skin to his dogs. Throughout the course of the movie, Lecter is hunted by men hired by the billionaire, as well as authorities in both America and France who want to bring him back to custody. Or at least that's how it would appear, at first; nobody "hunts" Hannibal Lecter. This is a character who is found only when he wants to be, a character who hunts and outsmarts his hunters. All the while being polite about it, as he does adhere to the code of morality he holds others to; warped as it may be, decency and manners are at the core.

I missed Silence of the Lambs when it came out, was generally uninterested at the time. I was about 12, more caught up in movies like Terminator 2 (which remains a favorite to this day). It wasn't until later that I'd seen it. I never really was a fan of the movie, but more of Lecter himself. Like Darth Vader from the original Star Wars trilogy, he's a villain you can root for, one you almost want to win. Although unlike Vader, in every Lecter movie, he isn't the villain, and here, it's Verger. Not only because of the horrific crimes of his past, but for the plan of torture he wants to exact on Lecter. If you watch this movie and don't feel anything for him three-quarters of the way in, you surely will when Verger spells out exactly what he plans to do with Hannibal.

By the time Hannibal came out in theaters, I was interested, but I hadn't yet read the books. When I talked to a good friend about it, who had read the books, his first question to me was, "Are they gonna have the boars?" I hadn't heard anything about any boars at this point, but it intrigued me - and got me reading the book (although I did see the movie first). The book did cover more ground - it was a lot more in-depth - but the part with the boars wasn't any better in the book. (If you're wondering what I mean, ask yourself what you think a billionaire would use wild boars for as far as revenge. If you knew how big these things are - bigger than any pig or dog - your best guess might be pretty close.)

I'm surprised this movie is only rated R. There is a lot of stuff in this movie which would likely give someone nightmares, much more so than these horror movies that have come out over the years. The boars, the hanging, the scene at the end - even Hannibal himself, are just the thing nightmares are made of. Still, it's one of the best movies I have, and if you haven't seen it - and have a tough enough stomach - you're missing out.

No comments: