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Firstly - on an totally personal note, may I make it clear that I only very rarely eat late at night. However upon emerging from the cinema at ten minutes before ten, I found myself with quite a hearty appetite and adjourned to a nearby establishment for some sustenance which coincidentally included not fava but green beans (I drank beer with my dinner rather than a "nice Chianti")

I suspect, apart from the culinary (all be they at times somewhat revoltingly so) aspects of Hannibal, my appetite was also somewhat cultivated by the considerable preparation I had made for this movie and indeed in prepping my review also.

I read the book during last summer and followed with interest all the rumour and innuendo surrounding what was bound to be the most talked about and anticipated sequel of the year. I was among those who considerably disliked the book particularly the ending, and therefore fully understood the reluctance of many of the talents of Silence (Silence of the Lambs- Ed) to get involved in this project, most notably Jody Foster who it was said felt her character had been sold down the river in this sequel.

All this aside however, it was still with some considerable anticipation and curiosity that I took it upon myself to form my own opinion, by going to see Hannibal over the weekend, despite what the majority of other critics seemed to be saying about it in the negative.

Picking up the story of Dr Hannibal Lecter, ten year have elapsed since FBI special agent Clarice Starling rocketed to fame by saving the live of a senator's daughter and blasting the hell out of a psychopath called Jame Gumb in a dark basement filled with moths. With Jody Foster out of the running, Clarice this time is played, in what must have been a somewhat daunting task, by Julianne Moore who, to her credit with the at times terrible characterisation material, manages to make a very fine stab (No pun intended!) at Agent Starling's role. Early in the movie we find her career on the point of jeopardy after a botched up FBI raid and the only thing that saves her is the high powered machinations of one Mason Verger who, in cahoots with her nemesis in the Justice department; Paul Krendler, manoeuvres to have her put back on Hannibal's trail, for his own ends. However Clarice is no longer the bright young, gung ho, FBI recruit trying to prove herself and distance herself from her "white trailer trash" background. Indeed ten years on we see absolutely no trace of this aspect of Moore's portrayal of Starling, but rather she plays the role as a cynical, hard nosed tough woman now totally unfazed but still discriminated against in a predominantly male environment and very much trying to survive Krendler and his ilk.
Her old friend Dr Hannibal Lecter has been free for ten years and has found his way to Florence presumably from where we last seen him somewhere in the Caribbean, where he was about to "have an old friend for dinner". He is being maniacally pursued by the only one of his victims to survive, albeit a horribly mutilated and accordingly disabled multimillionaire called Mason Verger (Hannibal got him to cut off his own face with shards of a broken mirror and feed it to his dogs). Verger is played unrecognisably (though the allegations that he didn't get credits are untrue - he gets third billing in the end credits after Hopkins and Moore) by Gary Oldman, who is no stranger to playing nasty characters of which few could expect to top the role of Verger (Although the corrupt cop in Leon comes close!)

There is a scene in the book, (omitted from the film presumably for PC purposes, although I don't really understand why, because some of the scenes retained are revolting and gloried in their shock factor), which serves to illustrate just how nasty and twisted the character of Verger is. In the scene Verger "borrows" young children (he seems to have a preference for boys!) from the local orphanage to play in his mansion (shades of Great Expectation's Miss Havisham perhaps?) and whilst there, verbally torments and mocks them to them to the point of tears, which he carefully collects (soaked and squeezed from a handkerchief) and used to make his Martini's with.

Whilst the role of Verger, appearance wise in any case, is carried off very well by Oldman with his Elephant Man-esque make up, the truly nasty and malevolent aspects of his character which Harris took such pains to illustrate in the novel, never really come across in the movie and it tends to overtly depend on his horrific appearance to convey this to us, and therefore fails to a greater extent.

Right from the start however, it is quite apparent that if anything is to salvage this story it will be Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as one of the most chilling characters ever committed to celloid. To his credit, as a brilliant actor, Hopkins does indeed wrestle and mould the material he has been given this time, but even he cannot give a liberated Hannibal the terrifying aura of the man in the mask or behind the bullet proof glass of ten years ago. Indeed, ruminating on this movie afterwards I was trying to pinpoint what it was about Hannibal this time that just didn't seem the same as Silence and it occurred to me that it was just that aspect of Lecter in Silence that actually made him so terrifying. It has often been said, in both drama and sex, that what is insinuated and suggested rather than what is actually shown is often much more effective. In Silence, Hannibal was, for the most part, a character with an off screen history, related by himself or third parties, and his menace was made up to a large degree of our drip fed knowledge of these facts and the potential he had to re-offend- In that context all his props, including the Strait Jacket, The Mask and the pen he secrets from Doctor Chilton for use with horrific effect later on were keys to the intimidating aura of the monster.
In Hannibal however Dr Lecter is now a free man, no longer caged and menacing in his potential. He mingles freely amongst the unaware populace of Florence and manages to refrain from eating any of them that we know of anyway (As opposed to the belief we had from Silence that were he to be freed, his automatic instinct would be to bite and eat unrestrained all around him, except for Clarice of course!). Indeed, posing as a Dr Fell, an expert in Dante and an impeccably cultured aficionado of the arts, Hannibal is, outwardly at least, the very epitome of a civilised gentleman.

Another aspect of Lecter's character, which was dealt with quite effectively in Silence and is laid out extensively in the book of Hannibal, is where he gets his serenity from and how effective he is in removing himself from the reality he finds himself in when necessary. Therefore, when he told Clarice from his cell in Silence that he wanted a room with a view, he was all the time within his own mind actually in Florence and it was this total mind control (The same mind control that could make him credible to the paramedics in Silence when even his monitored heartbeat doesn't sell him out) that also added to his chilling persona. Again, disappointingly, this aspect doesn't transfer to the film here and we are left instead with a materialistic Hannibal who outwardly conveys and covets all the trappings of freedom that he relished in his captivity, rather than the one who's mind control was so powerful that it could it could not only have him achieve whatever he wanted but he could also get others (man and beast alike) to also do his bidding. So, whilst in Silence we never see the scene in which his neighbour in an adjoining cell, who has offended Starling, is essentially taunted to death, here the director Scott feels it necessary to show us Hannibal's earlier compelling of Verger to self-mutilation, along with other gruesome and graphically detailed aspects of the book.

The other main character in Hannibal is a Florentine detective called Rinaldo Pazzi (Of the corrupt and disgraced Florentine Pazzi's as Hannibal takes pleasure in pointing out to him on a number of occasions!) who follows the family pedigree in opting to deliver Hannibal to Verger to claim the $3m reward for himself. Much of the initial action in the movie therefore centers on Italy, particularly on Florence where Pazzi is trying to entrap Hannibal, and to a lesser degree on a bunch of Sardinian's who are custom rearing a herd of man eating boars for Verger to use in inflicting his revenge on Hannibal.

So, with the characters and the locale of the movie established, what of the plot? This is where Hannibal fails miserably, resorting to gratuitous and graphic shock factor in an attempt to entertain and grip us. Indeed some of the scenes border on parody, which had moviegoers on the verge of giggles rather than revulsion.

Admittedly I emerged from this movie hungry rather than satisfied on a number of levels. Much of the mystique of Hannibal was gone, to be replaced by the image of a eccentric but incredibly coherent and attuned ageing doctor with a love of the quality things in life and just once slight indiscretion, namely his penchant for human flesh. Ironically I would put this movie in the same category as Babette's Feast, Big Night and The Cook The Wife the Thief and her Lover and indeed in the realm of Peter Mayle's novels on Provence rather than within the realms of horror. It is in part a movie about gourmet food and classical taste, all be it definitely in the most extreme form. I have to admit it left me disappointed, but then from the book I didn't really expect anything better. I've actually grown to admire Dr Hannibal Lecter some more and can't seem to fear him as much as I used to and that is possibly the most thing I lost in the viewing of this movie.

For Hopkins efforts I give it three stars out of five

Oh yeah, one interesting footnote, there is an Irish connection (indeed a Mayo connection) in Hannibal. Much of the soundtrack particularly the very effective "Vide Cor Meum" aria is composed by Claremorris Native, Patrick Cassidy, previously best known for the "Children of Lir"

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