After escaping from custody mid-way through The Silence of the Lambs, serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) has managed to evade capture for around ten years now. He was originally captured because he was caught after killing people and then eating them, and in Silence, he aided an FBI trainee in the capture of another serial killer.
In Hannibal, he’s the one that’s being hunted. Clarice Starling (previously played by Jodie Foster, but portrayed here by Julianne Moore), is now a tough Special Agent, as the case in the earlier film boosted her career tremendously. She opens the film with a drug bust gone wrong, and is publicly shamed because a colleague died and she shot a woman holding a baby (along with four other people). It’s at this point when she gets a letter from Dr. Lecter, informing her that he’s still watching her. She takes up the case again as a form of redemption, and possibly of addiction.
While it wasn’t exactly clear what it was, there was a very definite something between Lecter and Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs. This film, despite mostly focusing on one hunting the other, will explore this deeper. It never manages to bring us the same psychological warfare as its predecessor did, but the relationship between the two characters gets explored deeper, which is almost as good, and just about as satisfying. The problem is that while this is interesting, it’s never truly suspenseful.
Anyway, there are also a couple of parallel storylines that run alongside Clarice and her seemingly never ending quest to catch the cannibal. The first involves a police officer in Florence (where Lecter is currently residing — knowledge that Clarice doesn’t have) named Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), while the second involves an unrecognizable man named Verger (Gary Oldman), who is the only victim of Lecter who managed to survive. He has had his face cut off (of his own doing), and can’t even manage to eat a cookie. Obviously, he wants to see the good doctor tortured and maybe killed, and because he’s so rich, he’ll pay any amount of money to see this happen.
Essentially what we have is an intelligent man attempting to simultaneously outsmart three people who also happen to posses above-average intelligence. It’s a cat-and-mouse film, although all four characters interact with each other so sparsely that it doesn’t even seem to matter who everyone else in the picture is. The story isn’t very tight, and a lot of it seemed like it wouldn’t matter if it was to be removed. That is, until the ending, when we finally get the interaction that made Silence so good. Unfortunately, that’s too late to save face.
There isn’t the creepiness that presided over Silence. We’re never really worried about Dr. Lecter here, which comes as a surprise considering he’s out in the wild now. Before, he was locked in a cage for most of the film, and yet had this allure to him. The scene when we’re introduced to him left us fearing him for the entire film. Here, he isn’t particularly frightening. That’s not because of the character or the performance, both of which are still captivating, but because of the circumstance.
See, ten years have passed since the man-eater escaped from his prison. That’s a long time, and I would think that if Lecter wanted to do something bad to certain characters, he would have already. He begins this film trying to get a job as the curator of the local library. We never fear for Clarice because we know he won’t harm her, or he would have already. And what of this Verger guy? If Dr. Lecter really wanted him gone, he would have finished him off by now.
Instead of fear, we get amusement from this character. We want to see him work, lure in his victims, and otherwise show off his intelligence. We never worry for him — he’s too smart for everyone else — but we never worry for other named characters either; they either would be dead already, or are “rude” and deserve their death. There are a few moments involving Pazzi that work well in terms of generating suspense, but he’s the only likable and realistically killable character in this film.
Because the plot isn’t exactly all that interesting, we’re forced to look next to the actors. Thankfully, they’re all great, even if a couple might not be exactly what you expect. Hopkins is still the star, this time getting more time to show off, and his intelligent cannibal steals every scene he’s in once again. Moore’s interpretation of Clarice ten years later is interesting, and will probably come as a shock to some viewers considering how different she plays the role. Gary Oldman, under copious amounts of makeup and prosthetics, is unrecognizable, but ultimately isn’t all that important a character.
Hannibal is not a waste of your time if you enjoyed Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Silence of the Lambs and want to see more from him. It is, however, not worth watching if you want a solid plot, because it’s all over the map here. The relationship between Lecter and Clarice gets more development, but the psychological battle between the pair is all but gone, and the only suspense comes either at the end or with Giannini’s character. It’s a definite mixed bag, and only truly worth your time for Hopkins.