Hannibal Rising (2007)

(** out of ****)


(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/12/2007)

It could have been great. That’s right. Hannibal Rising could have been a great movie. All the right ingredients were present: The actors and actresses were impressive, the cinematography was beautiful, the score was riveting, and the screenplay was written by Hannibal Lecter’s original creator, Thomas Harris. Unfortunately, none of this can change the fact that the story insists on being a mediocre revenge tale that dips into predictable slasher conventions.

The prologue, which is also the film’s most powerful segment, introduces us to young Hannibal Lecter as he is fleeing with his parents and sister from the family’s castle in Lithuania. Faced with the dual menace of approaching Nazi and Russian troops, the family is forced to take refuge in a small cottage. Both of his parents are killed in the resulting crossfire, and Hannibal and his sister are taken hostage by ravenous Nazis. With no food to be found, the soldiers resort to cannibalism. After witnessing his sister’s demise, Hannibal escapes half-alive and mentally scarred.

Eight years later, we find Hannibal breaking out of an orphanage to track down his remaining relatives. While trekking across Europe, he encounters his deceased uncle’s Japanese bride, played by the beautiful Li Gong. After she provides him with spiritual guidance on the subject of loss, Hannibal decides to enroll in medical school. While there, his continuous flashbacks come to a boil, and Hannibal decides to seek revenge against those who were responsible for his sister’s death.

Hannibal Rising is a grisly film that wallows in ugliness and despair. Its unrelentingly violent and morally ambiguous tone leaves viewers without any characters with which they can identify. The film paints Hannibal as a vigilante hunter that kills for the sake of punishing barbarians who were not brought to justice for their crimes. However, there is no explanation as to how Lecter would eventually become an unrelenting psychopath who indiscriminately murders for no purpose.

The movie is filled with characters that are obviously marked for death. Even most of the auxiliary performers meet a repellently gory demise. This sort of attitude is insulting toward the viewers, who naturally want good to conquer evil. The brief attempts at recapturing the famous in-depth psychoanalytical tendencies of Lecter are elementary and unsubstantial. Perhaps more emphasis on a varied story instead of routine slash-and-stalk sequences could have saved this movie.

While Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel is certainly a gifted performer, his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter does very little to advance the character that was first portrayed by Brian Cox in 1986’s Manhunter and then made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Although his ever-present demonic sneer is creepy and intimidating, Ulliel fails to create a believable origin to the infamous cannibal. The nature of the part itself is emotionally static and dull. Additionally, it is never quite clear whether Hannibal is meant to be a protagonist or a villain. Perhaps imitating Hopkins’ performance would have provided a smoother sense of continuity between this film and the rest of the series.

At the end of the day, Hannibal Rising is not a horrible film. It looks great and boasts a talented ensemble of actors. Nevertheless, the movie’s overall mean streak and fixation on unnecessary, gratuitous violence really leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth (pun intended). The producers recently commented that they were considering using this film as a starting point for a new franchise of prequels. Unless they plan to bring Hopkins back for a concluding chapter, there is no need for the Hannibal Lecter character to grace the silver screen ever again.


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