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'Hannibal': Abominable Magnetism

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2001


    'Hannibal' Anthony Hopkins is back for a second helping, with Julianne Moore, in "Hannibal." (Phil Bray/MGM)
I suppose you could say "Hannibal" is exactly what you deserve. I mean, here you are, coming back for more, desperate to see the sequel of a movie that was about cannibalism. What does that say about your deep-seated desires? Do you tremble at the prospect of human flesh being devoured? Hmmm, Clarice?

Well, here it is. The much-anticipated adaptation of Thomas Harris's novel, in which FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) finds herself back in the eager hands of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who has decided to come out of retirement.

In case you didn't see "Silence of the Lambs," this is a rematch between Starling (played in the original by Jodie Foster) and Lecter, who became uneasy allies when she sought his assistance in tracing a psychopathic killer.

It seems Lecter had a taste for . . . his own species. When we last heard from him, he was having an old friend for dinner literally.

In "Hannibal," the dear old fellow is living in Italy, looking very Truman Capote in that lovely hat. What reason could these two opponents have to encounter each other again?

It takes a vindictive little chess game, orchestrated by one of the doctor's surviving victims. This individual (played by Gary Oldman, made up to suggest a melted Muppet) uses a wheelchair and lives in a magnificent home near Washington. His face is a hideous mass of fleshy pulp, the horrible result of a date gone wrong with Lecter all those years ago. He's a wounded Elephant Man who dreams of revenge. When he learns that Starling has been unfairly victimized, thanks to a botched FBI raid, he decides to use her vulnerability as bait. After all, Lecter was rather fond of Clareeeeesssssssse.

It should be pretty clear to everyone, whether they've read the Harris novel or not, that "Hannibal" is hellbound for a gruesome denouement. And if you have read the book, you can expect some radical departures from the Harris story, particularly at the end.

In the interest of preserving surprise, I shouldn't say much more; but, even by its own dark standards, the movie's conclusion is as dramatically dissatisfying as it is disturbing.

"Hannibal" dies from its own auto-asphyxiation. By the time it draws to a hideous close, you feel dirty for even watching.

For the first half of the movie, however, you watch with moderate interest, thanks to the combined efforts of director Ridley Scott and scriptwriters Steven Zaillian and David Mamet. Moore's contribution is vital. An underrated actor, she lends this role much more heft than it deserves. And her performance makes that perfectly structured, alabaster face even more alluring.

But what's best about this movie and the reason there has been so much interest in Harris's book and the movie is the creation of a great character. Hannibal Lecter, who has entered the culture as a boogeyman for our time, is a moral avenging angel, in a reverse sort of way. He doesn't eat or kill just anyone. He does have standards. If people try to take advantage of him as about half a dozen unscrupulous, unfortunate characters discover in this movie well, he's not going to be lenient.

Hopkins, who is electrifying in almost anything he does, reprises the mastery he brought to "Silence of the Lambs." Even in a movie as patchworky as this, he's always compelling. He is completely in command of his presence, if that makes sense. He knows how to make the most of himself on screen, which is enough to make you follow him through anything even this. Unfortunately, you'll probably hate yourself for doing so.

"Hannibal" (R, 131 minutes ) Contains gruesome violence, some nudity and strong language.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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