The very idea of a sequel is to continue a story. To go further with character and ideas that were set up in the first film. "Hannibal" (IMDb listing) fulfills all the criteria needed for a successful follow-up. It continues the adventures of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, it probes deeper into their relationship and the effects it has on the world around them, and based on the novel by Thomas Harris, its extraordinarily original storyline ducks and weaves around any opportunity to simply mimic its predecessor, "The Silence of the Lambs." It's the sequel that isn't interested in reprising its forefather.
It's been 10 long years since Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) interviewed Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to help solve a crime. Both have gone their separate ways. Starling has remained in the FBI, despised by her boss (a slimy Ray Liotta), and recently inducted into the Guinness Book Of World Records for the most kills ever by a female federal agent. Hannibal Lecter has moved to Italy, where he lives the aristocratic life and occasionally holds art lectures. When a routine criminal apprehension goes wrong, Starling is put on suspension only to discover Lecter is alive and well and still captivated by her. In trying to contact Italian authorities about Lecter, Clarice inadvertently opens the dormant passions between her and Hannibal. All the while, the only living victim of Hannibal Lecter, the disfigured Mason Verger, is mounting an attempt to catch his nemesis, with dreams of feeding the killer to a pack of carnivorous boars.
If "Silence" was a mind game, "Hannibal" is an all-out war. The gruesome details are not glossed over in this new film, as we see Hannibal dispatch his victims with loving closeups of slippery intestines and deep throat slashings. Bringing to mind the wonderfully vivid Italian horror thrillers of the 1970s, "Hannibal" is best when it goes all out. There is a time and place for subtlety and nuance, yet every now and again you just want to see a man eat his own brain. "Hannibal" is violent. It pushes the modern limits of the R rating in such a way that I couldn't help be overjoyed with it's relentless macabre streak. It's bloody and defiantly depraved. As Hannibal would say, "Goody goody!"
Quite a bit of fuss was made over the casting of Julianne Moore in the role of Clarice. A lively actress, Moore is stuck doing an imitation of Jodie Foster for most of "Hannibal's" running time. Still, Moore manages to sneak in little traits and weaknesses that Foster would most likely never allow with her interpretation of Clarice. A scene with Clarice taking a moment to weep after a shooting that endangered a newborn was especially astute, as the Clarice character was never given a chance to openly emote in "Silence." I don't really blame Moore for not making a big enough impression in "Hannibal." She is at the mercy of the screenwriters and that pesky title. It's called "Hannibal," and that's exactly what you get.
However, with the returning Anthony Hopkins, Clarice and Hannibal do get some time to get face to face. Their reintroduction to each other is one of the highlights of "Hannibal." Hopkins is obviously relishing the chance to play fast and loose with the Lecter character, and it is fun to see the performer slip back into his best role. The opening section in Italy allows Hopkins to show a more reluctant side to Lecter, possibly even a side that's respectable. A classy cannibal, Lecter actually makes a pretty good case to why he eats people. Not since David Fincher's "Seven" has a homicidal maniac made so much sense.
For director Ridley Scott, a lifetime of getting exactly what he wants is severely put to the test in "Hannibal." Coming off the triumph of his "Gladiator" less than a year ago, Scott's hands are tied this time out. The source material for "Hannibal" is well known, leaving Scott and the actors somewhat forced to follow Harris' twisted narrative. This comes as a relief from the normal overcooked pictures that Scott usually produces. With "Hannibal," Scott must keep the story going at all costs, thus leaving no time for smoke and mirrors. His "Hannibal" is quickly paced, making little room for superfluous characters and moments. This is the strongest control over a storyline that I have ever seen from Scott simply because he has no choice. There is far too much at stake from the fanbase of "Silence" to screw around like he normally is prone to do.
The best compliment I can pay "Hannibal" is that not for one second did I ever know what was going to happen next.
Filmfodder Grade: A-