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:: Red Dragon

If I had to sum up Red Dragon in one line, all I would say is that, “It scared me shitless.” So much so in fact that after coming out of the screening, faced with a walk to the tram, in the dark, in the middle of a deserted North Melbourne, I had to call my Mum and talk to her while I walked. I seem to remember Silence of the Lambs having the same effect on me almost fourteen years ago but it was slightly less embarrassing to get scared and run to your Mum when you were not yet out of primary school, let alone University.

Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs, written seven years earlier than the novel Silence of the Lambs was based on by author Thomas Harris, it was turned into a movie years ago and sank without a trace. But that was before Anthony Hopkins (Remains of the Day, Nixon) reprised his role as the forensic psychologist turned serial killer Dr Hannibal Lector and before Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X), Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List), Emily Watson (Gosford Park, Hilary & Jackie), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Talented Mr Ripley, Almost Famous), Mary Louise Parker (Boys on the Side Bullets Over Broadway) and to a lesser extent Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver, Thelma & Louise) had become names that most of us recognise. Unsurprisingly their combined talent in bringing to life a novel that was hailed as good as Silence of the Lambs, if not better (unlike Hannibal) has resulted in a pretty amazing film.

Although Lector himself is probably on screen for only 20 minutes, the sense of foreboding he manages to create infects the remainder of the film. So too does his warped sense of humour that is irresistible in it’s perversity, who can’t appreciate serving a pretentious dinner party of opera society so and so’s the very musician whose loss they are mourning… delightful.

The films begins just as star FBI Agent, Will Graham (Edward Norton), the predecessor to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, has managed to get Lector behind bars for the first time, inevitably not without leaving Graham scarred for life in more ways than just physically. With Lector out of the picture, there is an opening in the serial killer market that gives Francis Dolarhyde, (Ralph Fiennes) who has grown up studying Lector from afar, an opportunity to take his place.

After two families are viciously murdered each under the glare of a full moon, Graham’s help is enlisted by senior agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to track down the killer before the next lunar cycle completes itself and the killer strikes again. Although Lector is seemingly out of reach, he is drawn into the hunt, both by Dolarhyde who seeks his approval as his self proclaimed hero and mentor and by the FBI who are in desperate need of his forensic skills. Lector, never one to turn down a chance to play, joins in the game. It all takes a rather unexpected turn however when Dolarhyde meets Reba (Emily Watson), a blind girl who knows, as he does, what it is like to be an outsider and he begins to fall in love. The plot thickens as we are left wondering as to who will suffer when Dolarhyde’s feelings for Reba start to threaten the other force that controls him, the Red Dragon.

Despite some plot weaknesses which may be the fault of the screenplay rather than of the novel, such as the key to unlocking the mystery being glaringly obvious (to me anyway) from pretty early on, the formulaic back story of Dolarhyde and the ease with which Lector manages to track down Graham’s home address from within prison despite the high level security that surrounds him, Red Dragon still delivers. The inevitable twists and turns, still don’t disappoint when they are delivered regardless of the fact that you are expecting them and that cast together in one film, is in itself something to behold. Well worth the look, just remember to bring your phone or better still your Mum if you have a long walk home.

Screening on general release