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After the success of Hannibal (2001), the sequel to the Oscar-winning 1992 film The Silence of the Lambs, Hollywood wasted no time in organizing Red Dragon, a big budget production of the first chapter in the Hannibal Lecter saga, directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, The Family Man).
Red Dragon focuses on forensic psychologist Will Graham (Edward Norton). Graham is famous for apprehending Dr. Lecter, a scene that opens the film. Later, as Graham is enjoying early retirement with his wife and son, he is visited by his former supervisor (Harvey Keitel) and persuaded to chase down a particularly violent serial killer called "The Tooth Fairy." Graham consults with the imprisoned Lecter, hoping to find insight into the active criminal's mind and method. Lecter's counsel helps Graham close in, but the closer he gets, the more he endangers his own life, the security of his family, and the life of a kind-hearted blind woman (Emily Watson) who has obliviously befriended the killer.
Religious media critics are not pleased to see Lecter again, nor the grisly, grotesque stories about his criminal kindred.
Movieguide's critic (not credited) complains, "The violence and references to cannibalism are intentionally grotesque and sensational. There is no hint of redemption. Red Dragon is neither good entertainment, nor good for one's soul."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says the character of Graham helps viewers navigate through the dark story: "Graham's responses to the horrific crime scenes and photos … makes them endurable; he makes us reflect that, as little as we might wish to deal with such ugly realities, it's necessary for someone to do so. (As a film critic, I sometimes feel this way about reviewing certain movies!)"
Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says, "Ratner exercises some restraint … much of the focus is on the FBI agent's determination to put an end to the killing spree. But be assured the distasteful subject matter and upsetting visuals make Red Dragon not for the casual viewer."
Preview's critic condemns its "images of violence … blood and gore … objectionable words … [and] brief nudity."
After hearing that Ratner avoided the indulgent bloodbaths of Hannibal in this episode, I reluctantly attended a screening. I soon wished I had spent the time another way. (My full review is at Looking Closer.) Most of the film is spent making us fear the villain, fascinating us with grotesque details of his carnal appetites and bloodthirsty behaviors. Then, when the villain strikes, the music and camerawork treat the villains adoringly, setting them up like gods. The heroes are more like tour guides in a ghastly exhibit. Thus, the result of such storytelling is not a redemptive examination of the nature of evil, or any kind of insight. We are merely left exhausted, battered, and a little nauseous. There is no excitement or exhilaration related to overcoming the villain. After all, we know Hollywood's going to invent another devil as fast as they can to take the place of this one.