out of five
Long-awaited sequel that fails to live up to the original: gorier, flashier, funnier, even - but nowhere near as exciting.
After an unbelievably torturous journey from page to screen, during which both original director Johnathan Demme and original star Jodie Foster both jumped ship, Thomas Harris’ altogether nastier sequel to his 1990 smash The Silence of the Lambs finally arrives on our screens, this time directed by Ridley Scott, fresh from directing Gladiator into a sea of Oscar nominations.
This time round, Clarice Starling is played by Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), while Anthony Hopkins reprises his Oscar-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter. The story picks up ten years later, with Starling’s once promising career seemingly on a downward path after a bungled shoot-out leaves one of her colleagues dead. Meanwhile, Lecter has settled in Florence and has taken a job as a museum curator, while still keeping tabs on Starling’s career via the internet and the news (which appears to follow her every move).
However, Lecter’s only surviving victim, the horribly-disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, uncredited and unrecognisable under the creepy make-up job), who just happens to be a millionaire, is hatching a sinister plan of revenge against Lecter and decides he needs Starling as bait. Meanwhile, world-weary Italian detective Giancarlo Giannini attempts, rather unwisely, to turn Lecter in for the reward…
Sadly, Hannibal never really gets off the ground. It’s poorly directed in places (the opening shoot-out is confusing and laughably bad), uneven (important scenes seem rushed, less important scenes are needlessly dragged out), has one or two gaping plot-holes (if Lecter’s on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, how is he able to re-enter the U.S so freely?), and -crucially- fails to capitalise on the intensity of the relationship between the two leads that made The Silence of the Lambs so compelling in the first place.
Similarly, there’s never any real sense of danger for either character - the one scene that should have been milked for every possible anxiety-inducing moment is over and done with in a matter of seconds, despite the fact that the whole film had been building up to that moment. It needed a nail-biting battle of wits between two bonkers evil geniuses with Clarice caught in the middle - instead we get a hysterically squirm-inducing grand finale involving Lecter, Clarice and corrupt FBI Agent Krendler (Ray Liotta, giving his best performance in ages).
Hopkins is predictably brilliant - he’s been living off impromptu Lecter impressions for the past decade, so this must have seemed second nature to him. However, legendary Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini is the best thing in the film - the films’ best sequences involve his scenes in Florence when he’s tracking Lecter. (Italian actress Francesca Neri is criminally wasted as his wife, Allegra).
As for Julianne Moore, though she’s a chameleonically-gifted actress, she seems to have been directed to play Starling as coldly and unemotionally as possible, meaning that we don’t get any real idea of her feelings for Lecter, all of which is crucial in the final reel.
That isn’t to say there aren’t brief flashes of brilliance, and two scenes in particular will ensure the film garners enough notoriety to become a huge hit, as it already has in the States, despite general critical disapproval. Ultimately, though, there just isn’t enough of an emotionally-involving story there to draw you in, and you’re left wondering if Harris didn’t write his sequel as some sort of cruel joke at the film-makers’ expense, daring them to go ahead and film his conspicuously over-the-top set-pieces. Go and see it if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned…