So Thomas Harris daze come to a close with the viewing of Hannibal, the ten-years-after sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Here's what happened: Harris had no sequel when Silence became a sensation, so he had all that fame and expectation looming over his head as he thought up a sequel. Then ten years passed, and the urgency of the whole thing slowly deflated. Original director Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster were on board and eager, until the book was released and was such a bummer they dropped out. The ending of the book (spoiler!) has Clarice and Lecter falling in love and running off together, which everyone thought was a huge betrayal of her character, and couldn't buy into. So they roped in Anthony I'll-act-in-anything-yes-ANYTHING Hopkins, tried to think of a new ending, and set about making a film to scarf up more dollars from anyone still interested. They roped in Ridley Scott to give the whole thing an air of quality and consideration, who may have turned out to be a good choice, given the vast change of tone and aimless, meandering narrative. Still, money must be made, so here we go.
We open with horrible-looking fellow Mason Verger interviewing Barney, the barely-seen orderly from Silence, who sells Verger Lecter's famous creepy mask. Then we have the credits, which show security cam footage of Florence, Italy, creating no anticipation as we see that this screenplay is credited to David Mamet and Steven Zallian. A little research reveals that the Mamet script they originally commissioned was deemed unusable by all, so Zallian was brought in to make what they could of it.
We then join Moore as Clarice Starling leading a raid on a drug hideout. There is the obligatory local lawman who doesn't want no FBI intrusion, giving Starling the chance to show her iron balls, and how she's tougher and more seasoned than when we left her. The bust is happening in a busy market, and when the kingpin comes out with a baby strapped to her chest, Starling calls it off, but dang those pesky local-yokel cops, they start shooting and it all turns into a melee. Starling shoots the woman, then runs over and grabs the baby, taking it and washing the blood off the infant, who is but an innocent. We then have footage of her weeping over the whole thing, showing us that she's a sensitive soul inside, has seen the worst of humanity, blah blah. She is then reprimanded and placed on probation by an FBI administration composed of men, evil, heartless, resentful MEN, led by Ray Liotta as Paul Krendler, who has a vendetta against Starling because she rebuffed his advances back when. All of this is happening despite your knowledge [and clearly demonstrable point] that Starling called the whole thing off, and it is obvious to everyone that she is not at fault, making this whole thread, which continues throughout the movie, ring completely false.
At this point I have written in my notes: "Ten minutes in and it's already quite awful."
So Verger contacts Starling and wants to discuss the Lecter case, and she goes to meet him at his estate, where his stone walls are issuing atmospheric smoke. We learn in flashback that Lecter got Verger high and convinced him to cut off his own face [they got some GOOD DRUGS], which Lecter then fed to his dogs. Then Starling gets a letter from Lecter, who has heard of her trouble at the office, and we join the man himself, living in the guise of a Dr. Fell in Florence. Lurking around is Giancarlo Giannini as police detective Pazzi, who is beginning to suspect that Fell may be the infamous Lecter. He learns that there's a three million dollar reward for Lecter, and sets his sights on nabbing it. Please note the extended shot of Osama Bin Laden on the same "most wanted" page as Lecter.
So for a while Starling has nothing to do except listen to tapes of Lecter's conversations from the first movie, now with Moore's voice dubbed in where Foster's once was. These tend to come off as somewhat desperate attempts to regenerate some of the excitement from the first film. Meanwhile we have Pazzi's attempts to corner Lecter, and get a fingerprint, which he sends to Verger, who wants Lecter in order to feed him to specially-trained hogs as revenge. Now one of the common aspects of movies that take place in tourist destinations is to set numerous scenes in the tourist areas, so if you've been there, you know that that IS Florence, and feel like a world traveler or whatever. I say this because the majority of the Florence scenes take place in the big square on the river that is the main tourist gathering place, until you kind of say "Enough, already! Florence--we GET it!"
SPOILERS > > >
So eventually Starling determines that Lecter is in Florence, and that Pazzi is after him, and starts warning him against such a path. But Pazzi is greedy, and doesn't listen, and ends up hung and gutted in a very public manner, a manner reminiscent of his ancestor who was publicly hung in the same place centuries earlier, which only half registers. Lecter also kills a number of other associates, until you kind of wonder, brilliant killer or no, can you just slit a guy's throat and leave his corpse around without any police intervention? Apparently. Meanwhile, numerous sequences of Starling listening to tapes and looking at footage of Lecter, which again come off as attempts to borrow suspense from the previous film. And one has to note that we're now more than an hour in and all of these just seem like disjointed events, none of it really seems to be coming together, and the film has gathered almost no forward momentum.
So Verger has concocted a plan to hurt Starling and thus draw Lecter out of hiding to save her. Sounds like it would generate suspense, no? He sends a forged postcard to Paul, who plants it on Starling and gets her suspended from the FBI, where despite her unimpeachable record, no one will so much as subject it to handwriting analysis, because they are all resentful MEN who can't stand powerful women. It rings completely false. Although it's hard for us, the audience, to get very involved with Starling's case, as in this film she's just a hard-as-nails ball buster, what with her tough aviator glasses and all, and she comes off as completely unsympathetic, which we'll return to later.
So now Lecter returns to the United States--please don't ask how he is able to manage international travel, while right next to Bin Laden on the Most Wanted page, just trust that he is a nefarious supervillain, thanks--where he picks up some gourmet cooking accessories, then handily sneaks into a hospital and lifts a cranial saw, then breaks into some gorgeous lakeside home, where we learn that even guard dogs retreat from his aura of pure evil.
Were then treated to a big flop of a scene in which Starling is running around a mall while on the phone with Lecter, and he's speaking Lecterisms in her ear while they're supposedly playing cat and mouse, and all of it just seems silly, including the shot above, which is just disappointingly obvious. Sure, Starling has been suspended, but of course she's the cliche of the agent who just won't give up, because dammit, that's simply who she is! Anyway, on the way out, Lecter is nabbed by Verger's thugs, and delivered to the faceless baddie. By the way, in here Lecter has been making a number of sexual innuendos to Starling, which will continue, and seem to be leading to the ending of the novel, in which they run off together. But since that's not the ending here, they just seem weirdly off and going nowhere.
So Lecter confronts Verger, and is all set up to be fed to the pigs. He's in the pig bin, with them sniffing all around, when Starling rescues him. Then she gets shot. Then Lecter kills all the other baddies, and convinces Verger's servant, who has received no development and thus we don't know why he'd want to throw his boss to the pigs, but that's exactly what he does. All of this allows Lecter, wearing his famous mask, to lift the unconscious Starling in his arms and carry her out, like classic monsters such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon or the Phantom of the Opera. He takes her to Paul's lake house, removes her bullet, and we're all set up for our big finale!
Starling wakes up, all drugged. Now, being drugged is a hard thing to make visceral to movie audiences, and the following scene depends on us understanding that Starling is doped up and barely able to function. So we have a lot of shifting focus and double exposures, meant to ensure we know that she's wasted. Still, it hardly works. She wakes in a black evening dress and stumbles downstairs, where she sees Paul at the head of the table. Lecter is there, blah, blah, and eventually he removes the top of Paul's skull, exposing his brain, while he's still alive. He chops off a bit and sautés it, then feeds it back to Paul. Ooh, nasty. Apparently in the novel Starling eats some, too, and then she and Lecter go on the lam as a couple. The end.
But here, we can't have Starling do that! So she doesn't eat, and remains disgusted by what she's seeing. They struggle, and end up in the kitchen, where Starling gets pinned by having her ponytail clamped in the fridge door, which I found mood-killingly silly. Then she handcuffs Lecter to herself! Then he picks up a butcher knife and CHOPS! The cops are seconds away, btw. We're meant to suspect Lecter chopped off Starling's hand, but no, he did his own, and next thing we see he's on a flight somewhere. For a rather distasteful finish, he gives a bite of what we can only assume in Paul's brain to a young boy on the flight. The end!
< < < SPOILERS END
Oh dear. What to say? It just doesn't work. Having watched the earlier installments, one is aware of how well Harris is able to weave several different characters and strands so that they all intersect at certain clever points. Here [in the film, no idea about the novel], they all remain fairly separate, which robs the film of having any forward momentum or sense that it's leading to anything. Lecter's whole time in Florence seems like an unconnected episode to anything that happens back in the States, and once it's over it's just OVER, like the ending of one episode and beginning of another. We're supposed to feel Starling's frustration with how she's being abused by the FBI, but all of the charges against her seem trumped-up, aren't believable, and none of this is helped by Moore's characterization of Starling as an iron-willed ballbuster. That's also all leading up to the ending of the book, when she abandons the FBI, not in the movie here, in which she remains a true agent to the end. Verger's revenge seems like something that should have worked, but ultimately every time he comes on, it's a bit of "WHY are we back with this guy?" You can see where the story is constructed to create an ever-tightening net, as the strings are pulled together, but here, despite being able to see the connections, they just refuse to come together.
This leaves the big notorious ending to come off as little more than a crowning gross-out, disconnected from much of anything else, and existing only to show extreme gore as a climax. Now Julianne Moore is a very fine actor, but here she allows the character no vulnerability (despite special shots of her weeping over babies), and thus we have no sense of danger for her, or that any of this is even getting to her. The thing about Starling from Silence is that she was young and untried and we could see that she was barely holding it together, which made us sympathize with her. I get that now she's older and wiser, but Moore plays it so one-note and inaccessible that it's hard to care. We know from minute one that she'll make it through this just fine. So when we're supposed to be feeling that listening to Lecter's tapes is drawing her back into a troubled mental state, she's just a cool, collected, badass agent. Rather than feeling like the FBI is a men's club ostracizing a woman for daring to have power, we can kind of understand why they hate her. The ending is supposed to play on Starling's hatred of Paul and wish to see him get it, although maybe not like THIS, but with Starling so dull and straight-and-narrow, it's just kind of mindlessly gross, and completely misunderstands what we liked about Silence.
All of it makes the movie seem really long, meandering, and borderline pointless. It is to be endured rather than enjoyed. And maybe less Lecter, where we are left to imagine how bad he is, is better than too much Lecter, where the movie has to portray him as verging on supernatural (he can talk people into killing! Attack dogs cower from him!) to overcome the everyday banality of seeing the mechanics of his plans. For numerous reasons, I giant dud. Silence left with a huge explosion of interest to see what the big guy does next. This film comes off as just too much information.
I wouldn't, though if you've seen the others you might want to anyway.