Red Dragon is the third installment of what could be termed the Hannibal Lecter legacy. After the abysmal and confused Hannibal I was not expecting much from this and so I wasn't surprised when it turned out to be a run of the mill thriller. It is dark, fairly fast-paced, and extremely well acted, but the direction and storyline are thoroughly predictable.
Red Dragon is based on Harris's best-selling book of the same name, which pre-dated The Silence of the Lambs. It tells the story of FBI agent Will Graham, played by Edward Norton, as he chases a serial killer known as the "Tooth Fairy". Naturally this involves consulting Lecter who is rotting in the mental prison you will remember seeing, from the earlier films. It seems there is no escaping this idea that it takes a killer to catch a killer, even although they each seem to have their own ludicrously complex reasons for killing.
The film actually starts with a glimpse at Hannibal's life before capture. Sporting a truly horrible ponytail he is seen hosting a dinner party and you just know that there is human meat on the menu somewhere, but the guests don't seem to. This is a natural assumption, which is unfortunately rammed down your throat by the unsubtle, soulless direction of Brett Ratner. Everything throughout the film is too obvious and overstated making the plot linear and overly familiar.
Will Graham turns out to be the man who caught Lecter in the first place, and despite nearly dying in the process, his boss sends him to consult Lecter in his quest for the "Tooth Fairy". They go through the paces together, as Lecter throws in his own mixture of supposedly slick psychoanalysis and confusing riddle nonsense. The whole production builds towards an ending I have seen too many times before in thrillers of recent years.
What makes the film watchable is the acting performances. The cast is really very good and they manage to make the characters fairly interesting, considering the material. Edward Norton is an excellent actor and it is very easy to sympathise with his character. His aforementioned boss is played by Harvey Keitel who has no trouble reprising one of his most familiar roles as a grumbly cop. Anthony Hopkins is capable of much more than this eloquent murderer and he performs well as always. The killer is played by Ralph Fiennes and he does a good job in a very cliched role, he manages to add some depth and believability to a serial killer we have all seen before. The increasingly popular Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a sleazy tabloid reporter who is set up by our FBI hero and Emily Watson plays the blind love interest of our crazed killer, both are good and as supporting characters they add a lot to the background of the film.
The production values are naturally high and the license has obviously attracted a very high class of actor. The soundtrack fits the piece, the tension builds in all the right places and overall the film is well put together, it just doesn't offer anything new or challenging. Ratner is better suited to daft action or comedy than dark thriller material and I think the film suffers slightly due to his direction.
This simply isn't a thought-provoking movie but the acting makes it entertaining and there are worse ways to spend 124 minutes. Fans of Lecter will enjoy the chance to see a bit more of his history and if you are just looking for a mildly diverting thriller then you won't go wrong with this. If you demand more from your films then the predictability and soulless Hollywood feel of this film will probably disappoint.