Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Herein I Rehash Yet Another Lecter Movie. This Time It's "Red Dragon"

Watched "Red Dragon" tonight, just like I threatened I was going to do yesterday. I saw it in theaters years back and liked it, though with misgivings, mostly about Norton's age and Hopkin's spare tire that no amount of strenuous girdling can disguise. I don't feel much like writing coherently tonight, so I'll just write my thoughts up in list form.

What I Liked:
1) The conversation Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton have right before Graham puts two and two together and realizes Lecter's the killer. It's fascinating to see in that brief conversation how Hopkins' Lecter would have acted in polite company. In "Silence" Hannibal can say whatever he pleases. He can be rude without fear of consequence. In this brief scene we see him in his human clothes and Hopkins makes some great choices, or so they say in actorly parlance. Sure, Hopkins is too portly and too old to be entirely believable this go-round, but he's damn good so he makes some good stuff from what he has to work with. (Did you know that it was Hopkins' performance in "Elephant Man" that inspired Demme to consider him for the role of Lecter? Pretty interesting.)

2.) Ralph Fiennes performance. I thought he was brilliant when I first saw the movie and I was struck once more by how effortlessly he shifts from terrifying to vulnerable, all without ever appearing to overact or ham it up. Is Fiennes like the new Jeff Bridges? In that he's the guy who's one of the best actors working but always manages to so lose himself in each role that you forget about the actor on-screen? I don't know. Fiennes is always good. From "The Constant Gardener" to "Harry Potter", dude does it all.

3.) Some of Ratner's choices are actually good. I like that he used the same style of titles as they did in "Silence" to signal a locale change. Also there a few scenes in flourescently-lit police-building milieus that look so much like scenes in "Silence" that you might be fooled into thinking Tak himself had shot them. I also like that the actor who played Dr. Chilton in "Silence" is back, though I wish Scott Glenn had reprised his role as Crawford. Harris's Jack Crawford character has been portrayed in three movies by three different guys but only once did they get the casting right. Harvey Keitel? Really?

4.) Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. To me it's kind of lazy and you almost get the sense that Hoffman doesn't actually like the character he's playing (which is not to say he doesn't enjoy doing the role, only that he doesn't in any way sympathize with the character), but it works and it's funny. When Hoffman's leaving the office after conducting a fake interview with Edward Norton, he says, "Nice working with you," and then, softly, "...chumps." Hilarious. I'd forgotten that line.

5.) Ted Tally's script. Guy knows how to put a screenplay together. He handles the false ending beautifully.

Things I didn't Like:
1) The movie's set in the 80s, about the time that Harris's novel came out, but Ratner never really seems to go for it. Yeah you see the old 80s Crown Vics driving around, but what about the ridiculous 80s haircuts? Edward Norton's bleached-by-the-sun do looks pretty goofy, but not particularly 80s. Thinking back I am remembering certain aspects of it that were blatantly 80s (Frank Whaley's Member's Only jacket for instance), but no would ever mistake this movie for a period movie, which I think was a missed oppurtunity.

2.) Edward Norton's performance. He did an interview with The Onion's AV Club (which I think is still up -- here's a link), where he talked about giving restrained performances, probably speaking specifically about his work in "The Illusionist". I didn't have a problem with him hanging back in that film, but in "Red Dragon", I think he takes the restraint too far, particularly at the end. When he realizes that Dolarhyde has come to his Florida home and may or may not have his son, his eyes don't really change. They convey no emotion. He doesn't appear scared. I'm not sure I wanted to see wide, terrified eyes, but I would have liked some indication that he was really scared, or freaked out in some way. He's so emotionally withdrawn in that scene it's as if Ratner shot a run through of the sequence and just kept it in the movie. Part of what was so brilliant about Jodie Foster's performance in "Silence" was what she did in the green glow of Buffalo Bill's night-vision goggles. You could see how terrified she was in that scene, and, at least for me, her stark terror heightened my involvement in the film. By contrast, when Norton opens the door and finds Dollarhyde with a mirror shard to his son's throat, his choice is to look disappointed rather than panic-y or even hyper-intense. There was an air of unreality about it that I think was half Norton's fault and half Ratner's fault for not caring enough to get the best performance.

Overall, though, I have to say "Red Dragon"'s a pretty good movie. Still miles away from "Silence" and, to me, not quite as good as "Hannibal", but nothing to sneeze at. I can't reasonably say that Ratner had nothing to do with it being a good movie, but I do think having a good Harris novel and a good Tally adaptation of that novel helped steer Ratner away from his usual tendency which is to ... I don't know. Soldier through the boring directing part and look forward to the wrap party and skeezing on chicks or angling for his next gig?

Anyway. Also, Shawn asked if I was going to have any comment on the new Harris novel, "Hannibal Rising". Actually, I was avoiding this one because the reviews confirmed that it was exactly what it appeared to be: a cheap quickie book published to coincide with the quickie De Laurentiis film of the same name coming out in a month or so. The Times said he was obviously "bored" with Lecter and I didn't want to read a half-hearted Harris novel, much less a half-hearted Lecter novel. But then some horror writer/readers did some reviews, and though they didn't rave about the book, they said it was worthwhile for fans of his previous books. So, being one of those, I picked it up just a couple days ago. I'm planning to read it when I get through with McCarthy's "The Road", which I just started today.

Hey, you know what's a bad idea? Reading McCarthy and then reading one's own work. Whoo. That's a work stopper.

Anyway. I's is outs.


Harwell said...

How are you going to talk about RED DRAGON and not mention Emily Watson, dude???

That scene with her and Ralph Fiennes on the couch is more frightening and disturbing than all of HANNIBAL. If Brett Ratner does nothing else but make RUSH HOUR and X-MEN movies the rest of his career, I'd still have to hand it to him for that one particular scene.

And yeah - despite being a French chef - Ted Tally's a smart writer.

JudgeHolden said...

You mean the scene when Fiennes is watching the home movie of his next victims and she, ahem, makes her move? Yeah, that's good and she is good in it but I'd probably give the credit for that scene to French pastry master Ted Tahlee rather than to Ratner. From what I could tell everything that was good about that scene was probably explicit in the script rather than in any choice the Ratster made. Though that's just a guess.

Craig Moorhead said...

Fiennes - yep, a great actor. You know why he disappears into the roles? Because the press has never cared about him. You don't know anything about him personally. He's not rammed down your throat 24 hours a day. It's a pretty good trick for an actor to pull off. It's why DeNiro used to be so good.