Hannibal Lecter is one of the screen's most evil and enduring villains. From his first appearance in Michael Mann's Manhunter, to Jonathan Demme's classic Silence of the Lambs, and even Ridley Scott's Hannibal, the character has such a charismatic appeal that we want to know more. Well, here is the story of where the cannibalistic serial killer got his start on the human buffet line.
Now, while I found the film well crafted and involving, it is not so much the story of Hannibal Lecter's start so much as it is an alternate reality take on Batman. This tale of our beloved people-eater is one that deviates from what has been shown, stepping away from the guy who enjoys his mind games and into the shoes of a young man finding his way in a world that seems to be slipping away from him — far from the man in control that he would become.
In each of the other films, Lecter has been portrayed as an uber-intelligent man with a penchant for human flesh, and seemed to be evil incarnate. However, he was never portrayed as someone who wanted so much to protect evil as he was willing to use the other players in the game to his advantage, protecting his own interests while playing his games. In none of those films is Lecter the bad guy; he is used for his knowledge, which he in turn uses to attempt to secure his own freedom.
With Hannibal Rising, I was hoping, as I am sure many other moviegoers were as well, to witness the birth of evil, to see Lecter as the bad guy who likes to eat people. I guess I should, at this point, pause and mention that I have not read any of Thomas Harris' novels, so I have something of a clean slate going in. Now back to the review.
Lecter is not so much a bad guy as he is someone seeking revenge to right a wrong. Rather than showing him becoming an evil entity, he is given an external reason for being. He is not so much evil incarnate as he is a product of his environment. This seems to come up more and more often in films about evil characters — rather than being bad for the sake of being bad, they must have a reason to be so. It is as if no one takes personal responsibility; rather they are the product of external influences. There seems to be an inherent need to give reasons for bad people to be bad, no one is bad on their own. That is the primary flaw of this film. Perhaps it is my fault for wanting Lecter to be straight up evil — I didn't want there to be justification for his path.
That brings me back to the mention of Batman, more specifically, Batman Begins. Hannibal Rising has many structural similarities. This Lecter may as well be Bruce Wayne, from the tragic youth, through to the training and traveling to other parts of the world, to his desire to seek revenge. Sure, the methods used in achieving that revenge are vastly different, but the similarites are there. Bruce and Hannibal are two sides of the same coin, characters existing in different universes with a thin layer of time fabric separating them.
It may sound like I don't like the movie, and that just is not true. I may be underwhelmed and disappointed with it as a tale of Lecter, but as a stylish revenge film with a creepy central character it works quite well. It is straightforward and does not have the subtlety or the texture of Batman Begins or Silence of the Lambs. Despite the lack of any real twists and turns, the methodology is engaging enough, as is Gaspard Ulliel as our dear Hannibal.
Gaspard Ulliel does not play very broad with the character, and does not possess the charisma that Anthony Hopkins did, yet he strikes a creepily stoic visage on the screen. He comes across as someone who is definitely hiding something, and you know he is doing some nasty stuff, yet cannot directly tie him to any of it. From the weird dimple in his smile to his sharp nose, to the way he carries himself, it is an interesting performance. Co-starring with Ulliel is Gong Li as the widow of his late uncle, and the biggest thing that is stuck in my head about her is how sexy and alluring she is.
Bottom line. As a Lecter movie, this fails, but as a revenge-filled bloody alternate take on the Batman mythos, it is a winner. Rather, it is an entertaining diversion that never bores. I had fun with the performances and matching it up with Batman.