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Break out the Chianti

[Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures]
FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), left, is reunited with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in Hannibal, the sequel to the 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001

Hannibal Lecter is back, and horror fans ready to raise their glasses will find Ridley Scott's take on the Thomas Harris novel a true rendition, for the most part.

Should the critics watch and tell, says the studio in a memo distributed at the critics' screening, it would "spoil the experience for the many viewers who didn't read Thomas Harris' novel." Fair enough. But what about those of us who did?

Without getting specific, it must be noted that Harris' finale, a chilling irony to say the least, has been dumped. What has been substituted is disappointing, just a standard thriller mechanism to set up another potential sequel. MGM's attempted silencing of the critics is a way to keep that letdown secret, at least until Harris' fans buy their tickets.

Until those final-reel mistakes, Ridley Scott's Hannibal is everything fans of the original book and film could want and more. Perhaps too much more at times, since Scott is eagerly faithful to grotesque images Harris envisioned and to the author's choice to make Dr. Hannibal Lecter a lead character rather than a looming presence.

[Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures]
Anthony Hopkins stars as Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal, the sequel to the 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs.
Anthony Hopkins certainly relishes the extra screen time with the role that will always define his career. The adapted screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian gives him plenty of erudite danger to convey, allowing him to be a bit looser out of confinement with some odd slang intruding into his mannered speech. Hopkins picks up right where he left off in 1991, magnetic and menacing.

Ten years later, Lecter is living in Florence, Italy, under an assumed identity, applying for a museum curator's position. It's the sort of place where he could live out his days, enveloped in culture and able to establish his mental superiority over anyone. Two victims from his past -- one psychological, one physical -- won't allow that to happen.

The lambs still haven't stopped screaming for FBI agent Clarice Starling. Lecter is still inside her head, where there is a mix of admiration and determination to stop him. A botched shoot-out gets her in hot water with the superiors, especially snide Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta). She's assigned to re-open the Lecter case to get her out of the way.

Jodie Foster skipped the sequel, reportedly due to her concerns about the novel's grisly violence. Julianne Moore steps into the role and the difference is barely noticeble. Moore mimics Foster's terse twang while actually playing a wider range than Foster did. Moore is too talented to settle for a mere impersonation. This is a good performance in a brave career move.

Evidence of Lecter's whereabouts has been supplied by Mason Verger, a wealthy, grossly disfigured Lecter victim, the only one who survived. Verger is played by Gary Oldman, but you'd never know it without a flashback of his encounter with Lecter.

For the rest of the time, Oldman is hidden behind an astounding make-up creation -- the effects of Lecter's convincing Verger to slice off his face with a piece of broken glass. The result looks like a scarred fist, a fascinating blob of misshapen latex flesh. It's a repulsive sight matching Harris' description, although the character's depravity has been softened considerably.

Verger is using Clarice to trap Lecter, whom Verger plans to execute by having pigs eat him alive. That is, if a greedy Italian detective (Giancarlo Giannini) doesn't capture the bad doctor first and collect a $3-million bounty. Those scenes in Florence continue a bit too long; like the book, it's a lovely setting to re-establish Lecter's esoteric personality and provide him a few snacks.

Scott's film packs a higher visceral impact than the original film, full of maimings, disembowelment, gunshots, even those carnivorous pigs. Jonathan Demme's tactful approach with tamer material is missed. At times, Hannibal operates like so many other films after 1991 that mistook Lecter's murderous avocation as the prime reason for his appeal. But it was stillness and intelligence that made him unique. Not many villains have fit that description since.

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  • Grade: B
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini, Frankie Faison
  • Screenplay: David Mamet, Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Thomas Harris
  • Rating: R; violence, profanity
  • Running time: 130 min.

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