Absence Makes the Heart Explode!
PROFILE: Kinder, jokier, unnecessarier sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Think Godfather III meets Eating Raoul and rents an affordably priced subcompact from Rocky II through V but refuses the insurance.
SYMPTOMS: Lecter is in more—too much—of this movie in a failed attempt to make him seem more sympathetic, more human. See, this time he's the one being stalked and there's some kind of quasi-romantic thing between him and Clarice Starling, and he makes lots of little jokes, so we're comforted that though he remains a serial-killing cannibal, at least he's not obsessed with his career. What the filmmakers missed is that the Lecter of Silence was terrifying because he was human. He didn't frighten us because he might come and kill us—that could be handled by something as innocuous as heart disease, the MTA or Disneyland. No, it was that he personified our collective fear and knowledge of what we, and the guy in the next car, are capable of. That Hannibal Lecter was about possibilities; this one feels tacked on, like the Mexican menu at McDonald's.
DIAGNOSIS: Evil—and cannibalism —is a dish best served cold.
PRESCRIPTION: Ten years ago, Lecter joined the likes of Harry Lime in The Third Man and the shark from Jaws as film villain icons united in their near absence: they weren't seen for most of their respective movies. When they were, they didn't do much, and the less they did, the more the other characters jumped. We need more of that Lecter. The just-standing-and-talking Lecter. The apparently-incapacitated-but-still-capable-of-lashing-out Lecter. Stop trying to make him Hudson Hawk. Respect the character. What made Hannibal Lecter Hannibal was not the amount of screen time in Silence but rather our knowledge that he was always present. Just like evil. It's the reason The Exorcist keeps you up at night while The Devil's Advocate is what you watch when you can't sleep.
PROGNOSIS: Less Hannibal means more terror. Lecter isn't about screen time, it's about primal junk that the character of Lecter personifies so well even if Anthony Hopkins isn't playing him. Check out Scottish actor Brian Cox's turn as Lecter in the terrific, often overlooked Manhunter.
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