Red Dragon
Grade: A-
Year: 2002
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Thomas Harris
Genre: Horror
Rated: R

It has been said that Red Dragon is nothing more than a greed-motivated production. Itís only purpose is to milk the Hannibal Lecter character that is adored by fans around the world, allowing the studio executives to rake in more money from the third installment of the Silence of the Lambs phenomenon. After seeing Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs, I have concluded that there has never been such a complimenting finish to a series about a serial killer that has the same passionate fan base as Keiko, the Free Willy whale.

I expected another ďall eyes on Anthony HopkinsĒ movie, but I was proven wrong. Hannibal Lecter does happen to have a major role in Red Dragon, much bigger than he did in the Thomas Harris novel. But there is a new psycho that needs some attention, and his name is Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes ) who is referred to as the Tooth Fairy, because he leaves his dental imprint at the scenes of his crimes.

Lecter fans wonít feel cheated or believe Dragon isnít a necessary installment to the saga, because it is. We get to see him in his pre-confinement days, and the events that lead to his capture. But just as importantly, fans of the Red Dragon novel will see their intact story come to life. Itís about Francis the Tooth Fairy, and his obsession with his role model, Lecter. Itís about Francis and his struggle with the demon within his soul. Itís about Francis who has to decide who are his allies, and who are his enemies.

Red Dragon opens up at the symphony, where you see the orchestra performing before a sophisticated audience, and of course we know who is in attendance. The camera captures the entire audience, but you only focus on one man, Hannibal Lecter. Even if youíve never heard of Silence of the Lambs before, you will just feel the evil radiating from his presence as he stares down one of the musicians he is displeased with.

In a later scene, Lecter receives a visit from FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton). Together, Lecter has been helping Graham solve a series of crimes that involve cannibalism, which are along his lines of expertise; both professionally and as a hobby. Like most of the settings in Red Dragon, Dr. Lecterís study is dark and gloomy. That is important for Red Dragon because most of the substance in this one is story, and character relationships, not shock value violence. While Lecter has temporarily left, Graham begins to read through some of his books. Soon enough (more like after several minutes), the truth about Lecter hits Graham, and our movie begins.

We are now directed to a beautiful and peaceful setting several years later. Lecter is in prison, and Graham is retired. While enjoying his lovely beach house in the company of his wife and son, Graham receives a visit from his former FBI boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel). Crawford attempts to temporarily recruit Graham back on the force to investigate a new string of murders done by a new murderer. Here is the first clichť of the movie. Graham of course refuses on the first bid to help out. If only Crawford would have just shown him the photos from the start, he could have gotten down to business sooner. But anyway, after refusing, Graham is shown two photos of two families that have been brutally murdered by the Tooth Fairy, and only he can help catch him before Tooth Fairy strikes again on the next full moon. It only takes a glance at his own family before reluctantly agreeing to help out.

From the start, Edward Norton looks way out his league to be dealing with the likes of Lecter and the Tooth Fairy. But his charisma and wit at the crime scenes erases Grahamís weak image. He runs through clues as quick as lightning, and easily puts the pieces of the puzzle together. He is only supposed to go through the evidence one time, as well as provide a quick briefing to the FBI. But when he becomes closer to Francis, and when his own family becomes involved, Graham has no choice but to finish the job himself.

Red Dragon isnít as violent and gruesome as Hannibal, but thatís a very good thing. While suspenseful, much of the thrills were artificially added. For one, director Brett Ratner cheaply throws out one of those every thing is quiet and still until something jumps out on screen. Well of course everyone was expecting something to happen, but you had to jump when the loud bang occurred and the flashback suddenly shifted into hyper drive. And you have to wonder why agent Graham would wait until midnight to investigate the crime scenes where the murders took place. Ok, he wanted to get a feel for what the murderer went through and a sense of how it was done, but did he have to do it in the dark? If youíre going to need a flashlight to look for clues, why not just turn on the lights?

Most of Red Dragon focuses on the Dragon himself, Francis the Tooth Fairy. While the majority of detective movies follow the cops in pursuit and try to conceal the bad guy as long it can, the camera focuses on Tooth Fairy, and what drives him to be who he is. There is a love interest. Reba McClane (Emily Watson) has fallen in love with Francis for his inner side, and sympathizes with his pain. She is blind, but knows he has had work done on his mouth by the way he talks. Her role is important because it tells us if Francis has any human left in him, after he endured years of abuse living with his violent grandma. You want to feel sorry for him as much as you like Lecter for his witty comments and charming personality. Never mind that both of them are ruthless killers that torture and dismember their victims.

There is still gore and graphic scenes of torture, but not nearly at the level in Hannibal. I even believe most of the audience laughed when they saw a flaming corpse in a wheelchair roll down the street. Maybe people are losing interest in the scare of the original Silence of the Lambs premise, and prefer to enjoy Lecterís humorous dialogue. All of the horror came from what youíd least expect. The depressing images come not from the slicing of flesh, but from the home videos made by the slain family who always look so cheerful on camera, unaware of their doomed fate. We see them over and over again, as well as what they looked like right after they were murdered. Red Dragon is eerie. But itís not in seeing the killer doing his job, but how normal the house looks until you see the master bedroom.

What made Red Dragon so enjoyable was the way Graham did his job. He used his intelligence to crack clues and was able to figure out how the Tooth Fairy got into the homes by playing out the scenarios in his mind, while talking into his voice recorder and examining blood soaked mattresses and shattered mirrors. Red Dragon is fresh. Most of the characters are multidimensional, except for two that youíll know from the beginning who will not make it to the end.

The last two-minute sequence was the most satisfying scene of all, complete and finished. The final act was tight and suspenseful, making up for a less than edge-of-your-seat pace. On the scale of predictability, you will either call it from the beginning, completely miss it, or call it but eventually dismiss your theory because that would never happen; until it does.

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