After a multi-year hiatus, the Defending feature is back as we have an old friend round for dinner. Would you like some wine? Chianti maybe?
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
“Ranging from laughable to just plain boring, Hannibal is toothless to the end” – Ian Nathan, Empire
“A loathsome, indefensible work” – Andrew Howe, eFilmCritic.com
“Not nearly as sardonic as it means to be, Hannibal seems inanely pleased with itself” – J. Hoberman, Village Voice
For those who haven’t been with the site since pretty much the beginning (hello to those of you who were), the Defending… feature was a series of articles written by myself (and in the case of the last entry Noel Mellor) where we took on a much-berated film and gave it a dust down and a hug. Over the last while, I’ve been looking at getting back into these articles but hadn’t really seen any films I felt I could really hang my hat on and say THIS IS MINE DAMNIT, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS. All that changed this morning with a re-watch of a film I hadn’t seen in years. A much-maligned sequel which did well commercially but feels virtually forgotten about now. That film is Hannibal and, my word, it is a treat.
Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) has had a tough time since earning celebrity status with her killing of Buffalo Bill, finding herself on the outside with the FBI after a bust goes wrong. Haunted by the lingering memory of Dr Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), she is given the chance by superior Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) to re-investigate the case when former victim Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) gives her some fresh evidence. Lector is now living in Rome and has taken up a new identity but when Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) suspects Fell of being Lector, Hannibal the Cannibal falls back into his old habits once again.
My last viewing of Hannibal may well have been when I saw it in the cinema, an 18-rated film seen in the Salisbury Odeon when I was 16, so at that time a little bit of a thrill. Although I want to defend the movie it’s easy to see why it got such a negative reaction, being so tonally different from the original film. The Silence of the Lambs is a sombre, fairly slow and contemplative movie which aims to terrorise through showing the insanity amongst a sea of mundanity.
Ridley Scott, high on the success of Gladiator and with a remit to basically do whatever he wants, does something completely different here. Hannibal is both idiotic and brilliant – a vastly different film which almost seems to want to piss people off at times, a dark, at-times absurdist piece of big-budget, A-list trash the likes of which is rarely seen on the big screen. There are moments in this film which are absolutely fucking glorious.
In the intervening time between my last viewing and now my cinematic vocabulary has expanded and, in all honesty, I think this has brought much to my experience with this film. I am not wishing to steal his point but, talking on Twitter, fellow ESLF’er David Hall made reference to the fact that Hannibal feels like a Lucio Fulci film. Just before I read that I had the realisation that large parts of this film play out like the classiest Euro-horror you’ve ever seen, and not just for the fact that a large chunk (larger than I remembered) takes place in Rome. There is a sense of the Grand Guignol about proceedings too.
Much of this comes down to Anthony Hopkins who completely hams up a role which had crazy moments in Silence but was dampened down by the limited screen time in that film. Here, he combines a love of high art and literature with a quipping cinematic boogeyman that not once approaches anything like something ’real’. The whole film is a different beast and so is Lector. He also gets just as many memorable moments here as in the first film. The line “By the way, I’m giving strong consideration to eating your wife” is an absolute delight. At this point in the film you’ve been waiting for Lector to take his mask off and bear his teeth and when he does, it’s wonderful. From this point on he’s essentially a cartoon character and while this will piss many off, I personally think there’s an awful lot to enjoy about that.
Adding to the sense of ‘largeness’ is… virtually everything else. With a massive budget, Scott makes an amazing looking film with stunning locations, fantastic set-pieces and RAY LIOTTA BEING FED HIS OWN BRAIN AND EATING IT. Speaking of Liotta, he gives an impressively sleazy performance which makes the end of his arc all the sweeter, the man looking like he’s sweating throughout and being generally filthy, something which he’s always been good at.
The film also benefits from a pretty insane performance from Gary Oldman who manages to exude a different type of madness from Lector. His performance is all the more impressive given the incredibly layered make-up job done on him. Julianne Moore may get slightly lost in the shuffle and I also had a problem with her jogging (looked fake next to Foster’s – how’s that for pedantic?) but she brings a spirited, hard-edged flavour to her performance and does well as an older Clarice with more weight on her shoulders.
Hannibal is trash, pure and simple. But it’s the kind which has you chuckling at times and wondering how a studio let Scott have that much money and put some of this stuff on screen. It is an anomaly, an enigma and features an ending where a child is fed brains on an airplane. How can this not be loved?