Hannibal picks up a few years after The Silence of the Lambs left off. Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore replaces Jodie Foster) is in trouble with the FBI over a drug bust gone wrong. Her career has basically been a disappointment, since she never managed to get ahead; she’s still being held back because she’s a woman, particularly by agent Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta). Meanwhile, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who has been holing up in Italy, comes back to the States to see Clarice again. Further meanwhile, Mason (Gary Oldman), the only survivor of Lecter’s attacks, has been plotting an elaborate revenge scheme that involves feeding Lecter to pigs. The three narratives come together when Clarice saves Lecter from Mason and Lecter saves Clarice from Paul. Clarice, being the super cop she is, doesn’t want to let Lecter escape again, but he of course has plans of his own.
I can’t help but think of the book by Thomas Harris when I watch the movie; it’s one of the rare cases when the adaptation improves upon the material. I want to clarify: I’m a big Harris fan, I loved Cari Mora when no one else did. BUT. In the movie, Clarice is honorable, always trying to catch Lecter, no matter how she feels about him. In the book, she falls in love with him, and they run off together. I am not joking. Which I’ve always hated. First of all, Hannibal Lecter is just not boyfriend material. I’ve dated a few weirdos, but none of them have ever killed and eaten anyone. Nor have they dug up the skeleton of a close family member to help with unresolved anger issues. Harris mentions repeatedly, in his disturbingly fawning way, how not quite human Lecter is, how he’s on a completely different plane than everyone else. Even Clarice is prey to him, a fact that’s highlighted in a scene when he watches her jog. The language of the novel equates her with the deer in the park: “Hannibal Lecter closed his eyes to see again the deer bounding ahead of Starling, to see her come bounding down the path…”
I much prefer movie Clarice, who is far less compliant and drugged out when Lecter holds her captive. While there are characters in the book that I miss in the movie (like Mason’s wacky sister Margot, who’s trying to get her girlfriend pregnant and Ardelia Mapp), also deleted from the book are a dozen irritating details, such as the foul-mouthed mother who meets undercover Lecter on a plane when her son is begging food from him; the phrase “She poked it with her diaper finger” will forever haunt me. But overall, the most significant changes concern the ending; most plot points and even most of the dialogue in the movie comes straight from the book.
Of course my biggest gripe about the movie is that Jodie Foster didn’t reprise her role, but I also like Julianne Moore, and she does an admirable job. And Hopkins came back, along with Frankie Faison as Barney. The other performances are terrific; I particularly enjoy Oldman, the man of a thousand faces and voices. It’s a tense and intense movie. There are a lot of disturbing but creative aspects, like a high Mason being induced by Lecter to cut off his own face. I saw Hannibal when it was new, and I remember leaving the theatre in a daze. While it’s my least favorite of the series, it holds a special (but itchy) place in my heart, like an annoying person who’s really nice. Check it out if you’re in the mood for an action movie with imaginative gore.