Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Rhys Ifans, Gong Li, Dominic
West, Aaron Thomas, Kevin McKidd, Richard Brake. Rated R.
Hannibal Rising marks the fifth installment in the
ongoing saga of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the twisted, flesh-eating genius
personified so memorably by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
Let’s hope it’s the last.
Lecter remains one of the most charismatic anti-heroes in
recent memory, a seemingly contradictory mix of fine manners, uncommon
intellect and a reptilian indifference to human life. But here, novelist and
first-time screenwriter Thomas Harris goes to the well once too often. A
glimpse into the childhood trauma that produced one of the most fascinating
serial killers in screen history might have provided Lecter with the satisfying
backstory that fans have desired, but Hannibal Rising isn’t a serious
character exploration so much as a pedestrian thriller with artistic
Stepping into the role more or less owned by Hopkins,
Gaspard Ulliel has all the superficial markings of a young Lecter – the
slicked-back hair and the devilish glint in his eye, with a soothing deadpan
that effectively masks his sinister intentions. Yet this Lecter lacks bite,
even as he chomps his way through the men who slaughtered his baby sister,
Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska). Rather than infusing the character with new
ideas, Ulliel delivers a faithful impression that serves only to accentuate his
own shortcomings. His Lecter is a gleeful sadist, but short on intrigue.
And that is the biggest problem with Hannibal Rising.
Although Harris adequately explains how Lecter came to be the suave,
sophisticated cannibal who would later toy seductively with Clarice Starling from
the confines of his maximum-security cell, he unwittingly strips him of
mystery, reducing him to a shell of his once-menacing self. It should have been
enough to appreciate Lecter as a monster capable, for whatever reason, of
devouring his victim’s liver with a nice Chianti or vintage Bordeaux. We now
know that he was driven to madness by a party of World War II Nazis who dined
on his sister rather than risk capture by Stalin’s army. In wholly predictable
fashion, he tracks them down and exacts his pounds of flesh.
Yet there is no thrill in the hunt. Perhaps if there were
some hint of the diabolical imagination that produced Manhunter and Silence
of the Lambs, Hannibal Rising might have proved a worthwhile, if
conceptually flawed, prequel. Instead, it’s a ponderous geek show, in which
Lecter’s victims, one by one, are devoured by the psychopath who comes to kill
and stays for dinner.