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Red Dragon
2002 - R - 124 Mins.
Director: Brett Ratner
Written By: Ted Tally
Starring: Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Review by: John Ulmer
Prequels are messy things. Sequels can be, too, but with a sequel, the filmmakers are creating new ground. In a prequel, the filmmakers are treading into pre-recorded territory, and if they're not careful, they can make the audience feel cheated.

But with "Red Dragon," prequel to "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal," the audience doesn't feel cheated at all. In fact, it is handled extremely well, and is not only a gripping thriller, but a superbly-performed one, also.

It stars Edward Norton as forensic specialist Will Graham, the man responsible for putting Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, as seen in "Silence of the Lambs," behind bars in the 1980s. The film fades in somewhere in the mid-1980s, where Graham starts to suspect that Hannibal may have something to do with the disappearence of a musician. Will confronts Hannibal, who stabs him in the gut and slowly rips open his stomach. Graham fights back, pushing an arrow from Hannibal's study/den through Hannibal's chest and shooting him some two or three times with a handgun. Hannibal is arrested and thrown in jail. Graham is left in critical condition.

Flash-forward "a few years later" to Graham living somewhere in Florida with his wife (Mary-Louise Parker) and son. Graham still carries the scar from his last meeting with Hannibal, and it has forever reminded him of his job and just how careful he must be. But then comes along Jack (Harvey Keitel), who asks Graham to take on a new case...

There is a serial killer on the loose who attacks every full moon. He cuts his victims with shards of glass, then takes the glass and puts the pieces in their eye sockets. He also does some other things too grisly to mention in a family review.

Graham, the best-of-the-best forensic specialist, agrees to take on the case, and becomes more intrigued by it and makes it his personal agenda to bring down the killer, known as "The Tooth Fairy," or the "Red Dragon" (hence the title), who is played by Ralph Fiennes.

But as the case becomes more misleading and confusing, Will finds himself seeking the advice of Hannibal the Cannibal on his particular case. And as Will faces his greatest fear, the clock ticks until the next strike by the Red Dragon.

Fans will be pleased to know that Hannibal has lost none of his creepiness since "Silence of the Lambs." Fans will also be pleased to know that after the "Hannibal" flop, "Red Dragon" returns to the roots of the original. I thought that "Hannibal" was proof the series' creepiness had outstayed its welcome. Hannibal's persona only works once, apparently...well, if you think that, you're wrong. Because "Red Dragon" is equally as frightening as "Silence of the Lambs," if a bit more unrealistic at times. And it's also a bit more typical for its genre in some respects than "Silence...", but it's still very thrilling. In fact, the ending could be considered predictable, but it's not for two reasons.

1. Unlike other horror films where you just KNOW the killer's still alive, "Red Dragon" really makes you think the killer is dead, but the surprise is...can you guess?

2. In most of the horror films out there, when the killer is supposedly dead, there is a moment of happiness and the film seems as though it is over, but you know there's just something wrong with the abrupt end to the thrills. It shows the family at home, extremely happy, until...the kid who went inside to get food hasn't returned. The parent goes in to look for him, and the answering machine clicks on. A cop at the station says, "He's not dead! Get outta the house!" Big surprise: The killer's upstairs with the kid, holding a knife to his throat.

All this happens in "Red Dragon" one way or another, but you don't feel as cheated as you do watching other thrillers of the same kind. If anything, "Red Dragon" follows a lot of the typical horror/psychological thriller routines, but it's hard to notice.

"Red Dragon" does jump through all the hoops of its kind, but if anything, it comes across fresh and thrilling, and this is all I ask for in a thriller.

Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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