Review: ‘Hannibal Rising’

Revealing the story of a youthful Hannibal Lecter serves only to dilute the delicious, mysterious evil that Sir Anthony Hopkins brought to the role and, while fun and familiar, furthers only in adding to the studio’s coffers.

As a boy in war-torn Lithuania, poor Hannibal Lector saw his castle home lost and his parents killed before unspeakable circumstances took his little sister, Mischa, too. Escaping Russia as a late teen, Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) meets his only known living relative, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), and sets off on a series of events that reveals some origins of the adult “Cannibal” Lector’s habits and specialties.

In spite of advertising and all that, what you really need to know is this: if you’re starved for more Hannibal Lector-y chewy evilness, here’s your snack. Otherwise, it’s all a pale comparison to the monster hinted at while still sealed in a plastic chamber teaching a green FBI agent from West “By God” Virginia what it means to truly be a sociopath. Gaspard Ulliel wallows in Lector mannerisms and going mostly over-the-top, while the ageless and always desirable Gong Li does her damsel in distress thing.

At issue here are the exact origins of what makes the man the monster. Hannibal Rising paints the pre-teen Hannibal as a child of privilege who had the misfortune of living in the wrong place at the wrong time. He loves his mum, his dad, and his little sister Mischa, all of which are taken from him so that he has no one left to love. As an older teen at the cusp of becoming a man, we meet a different Hannibal, one who seems to want to be left alone yet ever draws the attention of bullying braggarts. To coin a phrase, Hannibal has “an overdeveloped sense of vengeance,” even scolded by the headmaster for failing to knuckle under to the pecking order and standing up to bullies with bloody but not deadly retribution.

Hannibal’s escape from behind the Iron Curtain is where the film starts to falter from interesting into the absurd, suggesting Japanese culture influences into his psyche (what? He’s Wolverine now?) and even an infatuation with wearing an all-too familiar mask to Silence of the Lamb fans. Add to this the addition of Inspector Pope (Dominic West), a French cop who seems to have way too much information about Lector (especially in light of how useful the Internet was in the mid 1950’s). The cop seems to have the author’s privileged knowledge of Hannibal Lector’s past and future history, making very little sense no matter how you rationalize it. Again, there’s no subtlety here; this is young Hannibal, and the film seems to suggest he’s exactly like the monster you know except young and just getting started.

As a fun and familiar film, Rising reads more like a fanciful possibility of Hannibal’s past than an actual account. It could have been amusing to start off with someone finding a diary in modern times and portray all of this as Hannibal’s fanciful version of events rather than a fact, the opinion’s of a madman. Why not have Anthony Hopkins narrate the movie itself? As it stands, however, the worst crime this film commits is allowing plenty of wiggle room between it and the first prequel Red Dragon, meaning that the success of this movie could spawn one or even two more “Young Hannibal” films. If you can’t get enough of the monster, there’s are a few table scrap here to nibble on, but for anything more, you’ll have to re-watch Silence of the Lambs to fully enjoy some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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