**1/2 (out of 5)
February 9, 2007
Gaspard Ulliel as HANNIBAL LECTER
Rhys Ifans as VLADIS GRUTAS
Gong Li as LADY MURASAKI SHIKIBU
Helena Lia Tachovska as MISCHA LECTER
Dominic West as INSPECTOR POPIL
Directed by: Peter Webber
BY KEVIN CARR
More than fifteen years ago, Anthony Hopkins (under the direction of Jonathan Demme) brought to life possibly one of the greatest anti-heroes of the modern cinema. Film buffs know that Brian Cox brought the character of Hannibal Lecter to life in the misfired “Manhunter” in 1986, but it was Hopkins who made him the staple of American horror that he is today.
While Hopkins reprised the role twice – once in the highly anticipated sequel “Hannibal” and again in the “Manhunter” remake “Red Dragon” – it just wouldn’t happen again. Thomas Harris, who has a bit of a reputation for being a recluse, brought the character up again in the book “Hannibal Rising.” Naturally, Hollywood made a film out of it.
However, “Hannibal Rising” didn’t get the same buzz that “Hannibal” did a little more than five years ago. The resulting film didn’t nearly command the star power that the movie did. The first strike against it is that it doesn’t star Hopkins for obvious reasons. He may be a great actor, but I can’t imagine why a chubby senior citizen could manage to play the lean and hungry Hannibal in his 20s.
The problem with getting someone else to play Hannibal Lecter – no matter who it is – is that no one is ever going to live up to Hopkins’ performance. If they deviate too much from his portrayal, they ruin thing; if they mimic him, they become a mockery. It’s the same struggle that Brandon Routh faced for “Superman Returns” and any actor who has ever tried to play James Bond after Sean Connery.
To this end, I feel sorry for Gaspard Ulliel, who plays the young, pre-psychotic Hannibal Lecter in “Hannibal Rising.” He was doomed from the start. However, with a cast of virtual unknowns to American audiences, I didn’t go in with high expectations.
Still, this is the only thing that saved this movie. Knowing that “Hannibal Rising” wasn’t screened for many critics and that no one could ever live up to Hannibal Lecter, I was prepared for the film to kinda stink.
Well, it didn’t stink. It wasn’t great, either, but neither were “Hannibal” or “Red Dragon,” to be honest. In my opinion, I don’t think any of the films has ever come close to “The Silence of the Lambs.”
In this new film, we start back in 1944 when Hannibal was just a small child in Lithuania during World War II. He and his family are caught in a crossfire, leaving most of his family dead. When Hannibal and his younger sister Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska) become prisoners of war outlaws, things turn ugly and Mischa is killed in a gruesome way worthy of Hannibal’s future obsession.
Flashing ahead eight years, Hannibal is a young man filled with hatred in a Soviet-run orphanage. He escapes and finds his only remaining family in France. Taken under the wing of his Japanese aunt (whose husband, Hannibal’s blood uncle, had recently died), Hannibal is taught the ways of the samurai. Of course, somehow the message of strength and compassion is lost to Hannibal, and his inner psychotic emerges with killing powers (or as Napoleon Dynamite might say, mad nunchuck skills).
This film is a bit conflicted. On one hand, “Hannibal Rising” tries to show compassion for the title character. On the other hand, it is said he became a monster eight years ago. However, he is driven by revenge to kill those that murdered his sister, leaving his ultimate evil under suspicion. After all, wouldn’t you hunt down, torture and kill the bad guys who killed your sister in front of your eyes?
I appreciate what is tried in “Hannibal Rising,” and it does offer a bit of a diversion from the everyday horror schlock that Hollywood puts out. However, I would have rather seen what made him into a true monster who preys on innocents rather than leaving that up to assumption and innuendo.