January 24, 2003 -- "Red Dragon" is a remake of "Manhunter," the 1986 film directed by Michael Mann which first featured the character Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lector. The film is based on the book "Red Dragon" by Thomas Harris. The main reason for remaking an already good film was to insert Sir Anthony Hopkins into the film. Hopkins immortalized the character Hannibal Lector in the award-winning film "Silence of the Lambs." Hopkins made Lector into one of the great film villains of all time. Most remakes don't work this well. The main two reasons this remake works better than most are Hopkins and Edward Norton, a couple of the best actors around.
Hopkins reprises his role as the oily smooth Dr. Lector in this solid remake as we witness the initial (painful) capture of the famed serial killer by agent Will Graham (Edward Norton of "The 25th Hour"). The capture scene is as intense and suspenseful as the rest of the film. Graham leaves the FBI, but is pulled back in to investigate another serial killer nicknamed "the tooth fairy" who has certain similarities to Lector. During his investigation, Graham must once again confront Lector, his old nemesis, hoping that the caged killer will help him catch the tooth fairy. As usual Lector is playing games with his captors and with Graham, very dangerous games. The idea of pulling a cop back for one last investigation has been done to death, but that plot point is handled well here.
Hopkins expertly reprises his role as Lector, while Norton does his usual fine job. Ralph Fiennes of "Spider" turns in a chilling performance as the mysterious Francis Dolarhyde. Emily Watson of "Punch Drunk Love" is very effective as the blind Reba McClane, a friend of Dolarhyde's. Philip Seymour Hoffman of "The 25th Hour" is dead on perfect as Freddy Lounds, a tabloid reporter who gets a little too close to the serial killer story. Mary-Louise Parker of "The Five Senses" turns in a good performance as Molly, Graham's wife. Anthony Heald reprises his "Silence of the Lambs" role as Dr. Frederick Chilton. The script, by Ted Tally ("All the Pretty Horses") is not only very suspenseful, but it also has a nice touch of dark humor.
One of the things this film does well is to cover the mechanics of the investigation into the murders. A lot of movies about criminal investigations don't do a very good job on the actual investigation. This film gets into the thought process of an investigator. We can actually see how Graham is putting himself in the place of the killer, and how he views the crime scene. The film also gives us some pretty good depth in the main characters, more than most films of this ilk. It also has less gore in it than "Hannibal" did. This film is better than "Hannibal" but not as good as "Silence of the Lambs." This film rates a B.
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