Red Dragon (2002) Review

by Eleanor Sciolistein

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Manhunter is considered by some as the superior adaptation of Red Dragon I do not count myself amongst them. 

For me this 2002 adaptation is the prequel that The Silence of The Lambs deserved. Deliberately echoing the gothic aesthetics of Demme’s film ignored by sequel Hannibal. Allowing more screen time for Lecter than Manhunter (or indeed the novel itself), the film’s only drawback may be the fact that the visibly older Hopkins is playing a younger version of Hannibal and despite the best efforts of the makeup department, this disparity remains entirely evident. 

The contrast between Hopkins and Cox delivering virtually the same lines is also interesting as Hopkins chooses to eschew much of the devilish charm seen in Hannibal’s interactions with Starling, allowing the undercurrent of resentment toward his captor and the resulting wound to the character’s intellectual vanity to colour their conversations. The additional screen time for the ghoulish gourmet also allows us to see more of Lecter’s back story on screen. 

Red Dragon’s strength, however,  lies not just with Hopkins but with the performances of its entire cast, all of whom inhabit their roles brilliantly and get the most from a script that brings to life Harris’ novel with a greater and more satisfying level emotion than Mann’s vision. 

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In this version Edward Norton plays Will Graham and whilst he perhaps doesn’t show the same level of imbalance as Peterson’s performance as the character, there is something deeply wounded that comes across in his portrayal, the viewer really getting the sense of just how disturbed by Lecter the character is and Graham’s reluctance to get involved again.

Dolarhyde too is played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes who oscillates between unassuming and shy photo lab technician and murderous product of heinous abuse. Fiennes’ Portrayal of the internal wrestling match between these two elements is a thing of beauty, as is Emily Watson’s performance as Dolerhyde’s physically vulnerable but mentally and emotionally assured and empowered lover.

In contrast, it is the all pervaded ugliness of  Philip Seymore Hoffman’s repulsive and morally bankrupt reporter that makes his portrayal so perfect, especially when faced with the prospect of meeting the Red Dragon himself. 

Speaking of which, another plus for this version is the exploration of Dolerhyde’s obsession with William Blake, and particularly his piece The Great Red Dragon and The woman Clothed in The Sun, an  element entirely ignored by Manhunter (though Mann did go to the extent of having Noonan.made upon the famous dragon tattoos before changing his mind about including this aspect in the final flick) which gives a depth to the character, not mention some hideously striking and memorable imagery.

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