Red Dragon review

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Prepare yourself, then, for one of the most terrifying developments in the English language: "oodles" is about to make a comeback. Say it aloud: "Ooooodles." What's that? Makes you sound stupid? Christ, it would make anybody sound stupid. Anybody, that is, except a certain Hannibal Lecter.

Asked by Ed Norton's FBI investigator whether he has the "time" to help catch a serial killer, H's reply - "I have oodles of it" - comes loaded with avuncular off-the-cuffness and acidic bitterness. The fact that the line prompts the kind of nervy, dry laughter that sticks in the throat is testament to both the clout of Hannibal: The Character and Hopkins: The Actor. Effortlessly putting the harm back into charm, he totally buries the self-parodic buffoonery of Ridley Scott's flabby sequel. Hannibal's back where he belongs: slithering behind bars.

When producer Dino De Laurentiis first revealed his plans to make Red Dragon, the announcement triggered a snooty response. Why bother remaking Manhunter - Michael Mann's own take on Thomas Harris' novel - which was perfectly good in the first place? "Was" being the operative word: grim and edgy it may well have been at the time, but with its satsuma-filter sunsets, pompous synth soundtrack and `80s minimalist sheen, Mann's stylistic flourishes have worn about as well as a pair of fly-blown espadrilles. The fact that the movie also jettisoned some of the novel's best material in favour of a more interpretive approach pretty much sinks the purist argument. And besides, it didn't have Anthony Hopkins in it.

You could argue that director Brett Ratner's approach to Harris' novel has been pretty interpretive too. As anybody who's read the book will know, Hannibal Lecter hardly features in it, filling in the shadows of Will Graham's hunt for psycho-at-large The Tooth Fairy. Ratner's radical creative response is to begin the movie with the capture of Lecter himself and, as a curtain raiser, it's a grabber. In a pacey, taut prologue, Norton's FBI man confronts Lecter on his own turf, each scratching away at the other's psyche before resorting to more physical tactics.

It's a smart move. Not only does it serve up a pre-credits visceral thrill, it also neatly establishes the uneasy nature of the tête-à-têtes to come. In The Silence Of The Lambs, the exchanges between Starling and Lecter were motored by a perverse sexual tension. Here, the dynamic is that of captor and capturer. Lecter's a raw ball of barely contained fury who wants revenge. Graham's understandably nervy about confronting the man who nearly killed him. Naturally, this gives Hopkins the chance to chew on some get-cute dialogue (he describes the unctious Dr Chilton's shrink techniques as "fumbling at your head like a freshman pulling at a panty girdle"). More importantly, it also delivers the shivers (Great Moment No1: An apparently in-control Norton returning from his first plexi-glass encounter to reveal a shirt drenched in sweat).

But really, that's only half the story. Ostensibly, Red Dragon is about Will Graham's curse of being able to project himself into the mind of a killer, but the book also scrapes around The Tooth Fairy's nut-factory. In Silence..., Buffalo Bill might have got under the skin of several over-sized ladies, but we never got under his. In Red Dragon, we're ushered around the broken cogs of Francis Dolarhyde (aka The Tooth Fairy). It's a novel approach but it's only partially successful.

This is less to do with Ralph Fiennes' menacing, slowburn turn as the lisping mutilator (Great Moment No2: Fiennes shouting "You owe me AWE!" to Philip Seymour Hoffman's oily tabloid hack), more to do with the character's Freud-by-numbers, mummy-abused-me background. That said, his relationship with Emily Watson's blind lover is both creepy and touching, Watson brilliant in a tricky role that demands a strange combination of cocksure vulnerability.

No doubt about it, Ratner - who made the fluid, deceptively throwaway Rush Hour movies - has crafted a deeply atmospheric chiller that maintains a constant hum of droning menace. His only concession to style is filling the screen with expressive close-ups. No problem when you're faced with an unblinking Hopkins, but it does expose Edward Norton's failed attempts to internalise Will Graham's emotions. Such restraint may be in keeping with the character, but it also means, bizarrely, that you're more sympathetic to psycho than hero. Even so, by the time the explosive climax comes along - providing Great Moment No3, which we ain't giving away - you'll be gnawing at your cuticles.

If this really is the last of Hannibal's screen adventures, then he's gone out in great style. Oodles of it.

Be frayed. Be very frayed. A superior nerve shredder that recalls the drip-feed fear of Silence..., it's got jumps, heart-thumps and Hopkins as malevolently magnetic as ever.

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