Director: Peter Webber
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Rhys Ifan, Li Gong, Dominic West, Kevin McKidd, Richard Brake
Written by: (based on his novel) Thomas Harris
Running time: 121 mins
Original UK Cert: 18
Original UK release: 9th February 2007
Halfway through Hannibal Rising, my partner said “Sometimes we shouldn’t know the origins of classic characters”. She was, as always, absolutely right. Taking one of the screen’s greatest psychopaths and telling us how he became a monster doesn’t always work and if they are told in such a dull and dreadful way, to be frank, we don’t really care.
1944 Lithuania and the Lector family flee their castle from both the Germans and Russians. Taking refuse in a small woodland home, young Hannibal Lector witnesses his parents death and has to protect his younger sister from the evil locals, led by Vladis Grutas, who have also taken refuse. Hunger leads the gang to murder and eat his sister, leading Hannibal to escape.
Years later, the boy is now a man, living with his aunt but having sleepless nights dreaming of the night of his sister’s murder and with revenge in his heart, he plans to find the men responsible.
What starts out with plenty of promise: war torn Lithuania and a family evacuating their castle only to be caught up in a tank/air battle is very impressive indeed. Then Hannibal grows up and the film nose dives to utter dullness.
It is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly the pace. Director Peter Webber allows the back stories to govern the speed, so we get an hour of Hannibal learning the way of a samurai, building a relationship with his widowed aunt and trying to find the men he wants dead. The trouble is, after a while we don’t care and so when he does go on a revenge spree and the alleged horror begins, its not that shocking.
Secondly the script. Written by creator of Hannibal Lector, Thomas Harris, it suffers the same fate as Cormac Mccarthy’s The Counsellor. Novelist don’t necessarily make good screenwriters. Brimming with clichés and terrible lines, the script lumbers along and instead of trimming the fat, we get everything, warts and all.
I find it hard to believe that a cannibalistic doctor and master psychologist could be created by revenge. That is more the origins of a superhero. It feels like a cop-out. As if Harris couldn’t come up with anything original and I, for one, don’t buy it.
Finally the casting of Hannibal. Ask yourself what made Anthony Hopkins’ creation so appealing? Obviously its his charisma. His intelligence and his quiet confidence could charm anybody into doing anything. So giving the thankless task to an almost unknown like French star Gaspard Ulliel just doesn’t work.
You need more than a whispered voice and the cock of your head to be charismatic. Ulliel delivers his lines in the same unemotional way that the mist he could do is put you to sleep.
Even with usually reliable support from Rhys Ifans and Dominic West can save this dreary mess. Ifans hams the whole thing up that his performance becomes more laughable than evil while West just seems uncomfortable.
I hadn’t seen Hannibal Rising until last night and I can understand why. The other Lector films were thought-provoking, sometimes nasty but always fascinating. This was just boring. If something good came out of it, its a longing to revisit The Silence of the Lambs.