Hannibal Rising

At this point in time, do people want or need to see another movie about Hannibal Lecter?  Probably not.  But the temptation for profit was too much.  The Silence of the Lambs made oodles of money, and created an iconic villain.  That's why Anthony Hopkins came back as Lecter in Hannibal, and back again in Red Dragon (even though this book was already adapted as Manhunter).  This time, Thomas Harris (adapting his own novel) takes viewers back into the past, to see how Lecter (now played by Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement, Brotherhood of the Wolf) became the evil genius/cannibal.

Ulliel doesn't look much like a young Hopkins, but he still looks creepy.  A peculiar dimple helps in this regard, as does Ulliel's penchant for speaking slowly.  Director Peter Webber does his part by telling Ulliel to tilt his head downwards, so it always looks like Lecter has some maniacal look in his eye, and by lighting him in just the right manner.  The rest of the film, particularly the attempt by Webber and Harris to show how Lecter became a monster is less effective.  The largest constraint they are working with is a lack of surprise.  No matter what happens Hannibal Rising, Lecter will survive.  More than that, no matter how many people he may kill, he will walk away scott free.

Lecter was born into a rich Jewish family in Lithuania.  Soldiers took over the Lecter family castle, forcing the family to hide in a cottage.  Shortly thereafter, his parents were killed, leaving only him and his little sister.  Local soldiers led by Grutas (Rhys Ifans, Garfield:  A Tale of Two Kitties, Enduring Love) hide out in the cottage and take the children hostage.  The winter is bitter, and they run out of food, and the soldiers eat Lecter's sister.  Soon, Lecter, now mute, goes to a school in his old family castle.  The trauma of what happened leaves him mute, and he is the butt of constant bullying.  Boo hoo.  Lecter escapes, and goes to live with his aunt, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li, Curse of the Golden Flower, Miami Vice).

Here, Lecter feels "safe."  He begins speaking again, and develops a close relationship to Shikibu.  She trains him in swordplay (uh...okay) and he develops his own twisted sense of honor that deals primarily in revenge.  His extracurricular activities catch the eye of Inspector Popil (Dominic West, The Forgotten, Mona Lisa Smile), who is ardently hunting Nazis and other collaborators.  Popil knows that there is something evil about Lecter, but cannot prove it.  Soon, Lecter is a star student in medical school, and hatches a complex plot to wreak havoc on Grutas and the other men.  "Soon" is the operative word, because although the story of young Lecter spans a few years, he goes from beat-up kid to medical whiz.  It is believable?  It is to the extent that any movie it.  However, the story moves extremely slowly, and the prerequisite cannibalism comes off as contrived and a bit corny.  The progression of events in Lecter's life does not feel natural, more a series of gruesome murders to satisfy Lecter fans.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references.

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