For a movie that seemed to have little point in being made, "Red Dragon" turns out to be a surprisingly haunting thriller. Directed by the unlikely choice of Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour"), the film moves along at a fairly solid rate, while offering a slick appearance and convincing performances.
Sort of a remake of "Silence of the Lambs" prequel "Manhunter" (which was directed by Michael Mann; it starred Brian Cox as Lecter), the film stars Edward Norton as Will Graham, an FBI profiler looking into a missing person's case that, he's recently realized, might involve cannibalism. He's being aided by Dr. Lecter (Hopkins), a socialite with a degree in forensic psychology. When Graham comes to visit Lecter's house one night, the discussion hits a little too close for the doctor, who ends the night with a violent confrontation.
Flash forward several years, with Graham living in Florida. When he's visited by FBI boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) about a killer in the Atlanta area, he decides to take a week to investigate the case. He calms his wife (Mary Louise Parker)'s fears by explaining that he's not going to get too involved with the case - find the suspect, let the police handle it. Unfortunately, it's not going to be that easy. Of course, he's going to need help from - you guessed it, Lecter. The killer, dubbed "The Tooth Fairy", is a photokem worker played by Ralph Fiennes, who is romancing an unknowing blind woman (Emily Watson).
The majority of "Red Dragon" does feel familiar - it does cover the same general ground at times. However, while the film isn't successful in reaching the level of silence, there are elements of it that are rather successful. Brilliant cinematographer Dante Spinotti's work here is as effective as anything else he's done recently - his images are beautifully composed and rich, adding haunting atmosphere and mood. Although I wasn't sure of the casting of Norton, his subdued performance here is quite effective. Fiennes - so convincingly sunny in "Maid in Manhattan", plays pure evil here quite superbly. Supporting performances by Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Keitel and others are also first-rate. Hopkins is, of course, very good as Lecter once again.
Although the film is generally good in terms of technical aspects, performances and writing, there's still something that just doesn't quite come together to take the film to another level. The film maintains enough tension in the opening and closing to make it involving, but there are some stretches in the middle that occasionally let the tension fall off a bit. Still, I liked the film overall. Although I've enjoyed some of director Brett Ratner's films, I didn't think any of them suggested that he'd be capable of providing as solid an effort for a film as dark and dramatic as this one.
VIDEO: "Red Dragon" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's cinematographer is Dante Spinotti, who happens to be the same cinematographer who worked on "Manhunter". He's also worked on many other of director Michael Mann's movies, as well as director Brett Ratner's "The Family Man". "Red Dragon", as presented here by Universal, looks awfully good. Sharpness and detail are excellent, as the presentation showed fine clarity and strong shadow detail.
There really didn't seem to be many flaws at all. Some shimmering appeared on a couple of occasions, but no compression artifacts were spotted, nor were any instances of edge enhancement. The print also looked terrific, with no noticable specks, marks or other faults. The film's color palette is certainly rather subdued, but colors still remained accurate throughout. Black level remained solid, as well. Overall, an excellent presentation.
SOUND: "Red Dragon" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is just aggressive enough - surrounds are used appropriately in various scenes to envelop the viewer (the various alarms in Lecter's cell, for example). The rear speakers also offer some minor ambience and occasional reinforcement of Danny Elfman's fine score. Elfman's score sounds rich and crisp, while dialogue remained clear. Some low bass is occasionally present, too.
EXTRAS: There are two versions of "Red Dragon" coming out on April 1. One is the "Collector's Edition", with a solid amount of the usual supplements. A "Director's Edition" offers the same first disc, paired with another disc of additional supplements. The review below is for the "Collector's Edition".
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally. Rather hyperactive and often funny, Ratner provides much of the discussion on this track, taking viewers through the process of getting involved in the film. His fun opening comments about meeting producer Dino De Laurentis - who wasn't familiar with "Rush Hour" or "Family Man" - are a good indicator of the kind of tone of the rest of the track. The director is certainly familiar with the commentary process (as he's provided a few at this point), so he understands the format quite well, energetically going deep into a discussion of the production, from early concepts to visuals to characters to obstacles. He does so in a way that's fun, occasionally joking about his working style and what he might have done differently. Although Ratner has a great deal to offer, Tally certainly does fill in quite well, discussing the character and story issues with greater detail.
Deleted Footage: This section is broken up into three areas: extended scenes, alternate versions of scenes and deleted scenes. There are three extended scenes, seven deleted scenes and four alternate versions. There are some interesting moments, but nothing that should have ended up in the film. The scenes are presented with optional commentary.
Also: Isolated score from Danny Elfman (with some commentary scattered throughout), a 14-minute featurette, production notes, bios, recommendations and DVD-ROM features. There's also an additional, brief section about Lecter, with a couple of featurettes and Lecter's FBI file.
Final Thoughts: Although flawed and not quite as good as "Silence of the Lambs", I still liked "Red Dragon" (and that's saying a bit, given that I'm not a fan of the genre). Universal's DVD is a very fine effort, with solid supplements and good audio/video quality. Recommended for fans of the films or the genre.
The Film ***