DVD Release Date:  May 29, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  February 9, 2007
Rating:  R (for strong, grisly, violent content and some language/sexual references)
Genre:  Horror
Running Time:  117 min.
Director:  Peter Webber
Actors:  Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Dominic West, Helena Lia Tachovska, Kevin McKidd, Aaron Thomas, Richard Brake, Goran Kostic

Moviegoers first encountered serial killer Hannibal Lecter in director Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), in which the cannibalistic villain was played by excellent character actor Brian Cox. But the most memorable incarnation of Hannibal – Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs – turned the character into a cultural icon. Hopkins won an Oscar for his portrayal only a year after Jeremy Irons, Kathy Bates and Joe Pesci had scored an Oscar trifecta, taking home the statuettes for their portrayals of murderous individuals in Reversal of Fortune, Misery and Goodfellas, respectively. The mainstreaming of psychotic villains had begun.

The public’s fascination with Lecter carried through to an odious Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal, and “Lambs” prequel Red Dragon (a remake of Manhunter), both starring Hopkins as Lecter. Now comes Hannibal Rising, a look at the early years of Lecter and the experiences that created the monstrous individual.

If “Hannibal Rising” isn’t bad enough to kill off this franchise, nothing will do the trick. Ghastly and often disgusting, the film somehow manages also to be dull, all the while providing a strange but not entirely convincing impetus for Lecter’s taste for human flesh.

This time the killer is played, for most of the film’s running time, by Gaspard Ulliel. But Hannibal Rising starts with the younger Aaron Thomas as Lecter, hiding with his sister, Mischa, on the Eastern Front—Lithuania, specifically—during World War II. A band of Nazi sympathizers, desperate and hungry, takes shelter in the same dwelling as the young Lecters, whereupon they kill Mischa, cook her and eat her. Young Hannibal, spared the same fate, vows to track down her killers.

We watch as Hannibal ages into a young man who fearlessly confronts his adversaries. First up are the bullies at the orphanage where Lecter lives. “You do not honor the human pecking order,” the head of the orphanage tells Lecter, in the film’s one genuinely funny line. “You’re always hurting the bullies.”

Lecter eventually travels to France, where he enters into a vaguely defined romantic relationship with his uncle’s widow, Lady Murasaki, and hunts his childhood tormentors, promising to make them pay for what they did to Mischa.

Driven by his desire for revenge, Lecter proceeds to dispatch the men one by one. Starting with a decapitation, the method of death grows more gruesome with each killing, but nothing tops the emotional manipulation of the repeated flashbacks to Lecter’s final images of Mischa, as she’s carried off to her doom. Director Peter Webber seems to relish Mischa’s impending fatal blow, filming the thugs’ weapon of choice with tender loving care. Indeed, such lavish treatment is bestowed throughout the film on knives, swords and other bladed weapons of death. It’s all extremely uncomfortable to watch, and as the dialogue increasingly focuses on such things as the flavor of human cheek flesh, a viewer could be forgiven for wondering what the point is of the entire mess.

The film’s one saving grace—a nice performance by the always compelling Gong Li—can’t salvage the movie. As usual, Gong holds the viewer’s attention with her physical beauty, but we’re never sure what she sees in Ulliel’s Lecter, other than a chance to continue the Lecter line. (Gong’s English has improved much since last year’s Miami Vice and the previous, thoroughly embarrassing, Memoirs of a Geisha.) Ulliel does his best as Lecter, but what is he given to work with? This ghoulish tale couldn’t be saved by even the best actors, as was the case with the Silence of the Lambs sequel, “Hannibal,” which wasted the amazing talents of Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, and director Ridley Scott.

Why is the public fascinated by Hannibal Lecter and with these tales of visceral revenge? God tells us, “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom”(Proverbs 10), and, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Proverbs 28). There’s not much wisdom on view in Hannibal Rising, nor true justice, but there’s an abundance of evil.

Who could find pleasure in that?

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

CAUTIONS:

  • Language:  Lord’s name taken in vain; several profanities
  • Violence:  Warfare gunfire and air attacks; point-blank shootings; cannibalism, including implied eating of a child and discussion of which parts of the body are the most tasty; a man’s burned face; a man slices his thumb, then has it stitched; a decapitation and the display of decapitated heads; death by sword; a long needle is injected into an arm; a man is bound to a tree and choked by a rope; blood splatters Lecter’s face and he licks it off; a man is trapped in a filling water tank; a cadaver’s chest is open; a letter is carved into a man’s chest
  • Sex/Nudity:  Some kissing
  • Smoking/Drinking:  Some of both