So I'm taking a break from the top 1000 films of all time (surprisingly this film didn't make the cut) to review Red Dragon. I have recently finished reading the book and I wanted to see how the two compared.
How it all goes down:
Adapted from Thomas HArris' best-selling book, Will Graham, (Edward Norton) an FBI profiler, is brought out retirement to apprehend The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes,) a serial killer, whose real name is Francis Dolarhyde, who kills entire families to bring him closer to the Higher state of being that he calls the Red Dragon. To help him catch this killer, Graham enlists the help of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) a brilliant but dangerous psychologist with a taste for human flesh.
One reason why I didn't like the book as much as I thought I did was that it got very confusing and convoluted at times. Whole sections of the novel were dedicated to clunky exposition about police procedure, which I did get bored of reading. I was good to see that the film decided to omit most of this exposition, resulting in a better-placed, more streamlined final product.
This film has a lot of famous names in it: Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, Anthony Hopkins and Philip Seymour Hoffman, just to name a few. I thought all of the performances were really strong. It was interesting to see Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton playing characters who are on the right side of the law. In Keitel's roles in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, as well as Norton's roles in Fight Club and American History X, neither actor plays particularly up-standing citizens.
Anthony Hopkins is brilliant as Hannibal Lecter. His performance is unnerving and chilling. Hipkins is quiet and subtle in his portrayl, He is not loud or brash, but rather plays the role with an air of maliciousness, thus making the character all the scarier.
Whilst Anthony Hopkins was great as Lecter, I feel that the real praise should go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds. Hoffman looked the part and was every bit as dirty, callous and underhanded, as Lounds is portrayed in the book. Even though, Hoffman is only a supporting actor and not in the film for very long, I think he is one of the best things in it and I wished he was there for longer.
As a thriller, Red Dragon also works well. The suspense builds slowly and steadily, due to the subtle writing. Most of the violence is solely alluded to and not explicitly shown. Whilst, we know that the Tooth Fairy murders entire families, we only see fragments of the murders, So that when the Tooth Fairy captures Freddy Lounds and tortures and kills him, in a particularly tense scene, this comes as a shock and a good payout to the building tension.
What didn't work:
Whilst the film is pretty faithful to the book, and I did praise it for omitting the novel's clunky exposition, it isn't perfect. Whole chapters of the book are dedicated to the Tooth Fairy's backstory and his modus operandi. As a child, he is systematically abused by his grandmother. As an adult, he becomes obsessed with William Blake's painting The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun, and he believes that each person he kills will bring him closer to becoming the Red Dragon. His obsession with becoming the dragon becomes so strong that it manifests itself as a separate personality. Francis Dolarhyde constantly fights with this personality for control of his mind and body. However, whilst the book explores Dolarhyde's motivations in detail, the film somewhat skirts over these issues. Dolarhyde's backstory is condensed into one mere flashback and I don't think this was enough time to really learn about the character.
My second criticism also refers to the book. Throughout the film and the novel, Francis Dolarhyde is referred to by two separate names: the Tooth Fairy, which is what the press and FBI call him, and the Red Dragon, which is what he calls himself. These names are used so commonly that they almost become interchangeable, which I found very confusing and difficult to follow. It would have been much better if they had just called Dolarhyde the Red Dragon, the name I prefer, and had stuck with it.
What was ugly:
As part of the Red Dragon/the Tooth Fairy's modus operandi, he smashes the mirrors in the house and places the shards on his victims' eyes. This was one of the ugliest images in the film.
A creepy, tense adaptation with strong performances but let down by its failure to explore the Red Dragon/Tooth Fairy's motivations. This notwithstanding Hannibal Lecter still remains the Godfather of movie villains in the last couple of decades.