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Joy of Cooking

'Hannibal' provides gourmet horror


TO SAY THAT the movie Hannibal has more brains than the book may be giving too much away, as well as lending the wrong impression to an already queasy audience. Credited to David Mamet and Steve Zaillian, the script preserves the guts of Thomas Harris' entertaining yet repellent bestseller. The screenplay cuts back the travelogue and the novel's homophobia. Best of all, the movie changes the book's ending, which was like having Holmes and Moriarity ending up in bed together.

In this sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, FBI special agent Starling (Julianne Moore, replacing Jodie Foster) is in disgrace with the department, troubles exacerbated by the sexual insults of a preppy Justice Department liaison played by Ray Liotta. Starling's well-publicized failure draws the attention of Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who is disguised as "Dr. Fell" and working cozily as a curator at one of the city of Florence's private galleries.

Director Ridley Scott's best gift as a director is creating cities for the screen. He mixes in the city of Florence, the old city and fire-lit slums, making it the perfect lair for Lecter. Lecter's living victim, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a vengeful and disfigured millionaire, happens to own the Biltmore estate in Asheville--North America's largest private home. At the end, Clarice Starling is pursuing Dr. Lecter through downtown Washington, D.C., and the chase ends in front of the Italianate castle of Union Station. The buildings add fairy-tale qualities to the story, even as much as Lecter's baroque way of handling those who get in his way.

Is Hannibal more than deluxe horror? The answer is no. Though the film is greatly improved over the book, there are still the structural problems in all these locations: anti-hero and heroine only connecting at the ending; villain and anti-hero sharing only a scant minute together.

Still, Oldman's makeup astonished even this fan of the grisly craft. He looks like an evil fetus painted by Francis Bacon. Because of his bad eye, the light has to go on slowly for Oldman's Verger's room. A rheostat buzzes as it gradually gets brighter and that memorable face is revealed; the effect is like a cabinet of horrors in some decaying penny arcade.

Compared to Jodi Foster's Clarice--the lamb that outsmarted the wolf--Hannibal's version of Starling isn't that complex a character. (Part of the trouble is that the character of Starling has been strip-mined by several seasons of TV's The X-Files--Agent Scully is clearly based on The Silence of the Lambs' heroine). Still, Julianne Moore is a better actress than Jodie Foster, having been places and made choices Foster hasn't approached. The woman's cool reactions belie Lecter's cheap Freudian idea that Starling is still bolluxed up about her dead father.

The story is titled Hannibal, and Hannibal's what you get. This film exists for its gilded shock, and it delivers. I'd praise it with the words a horror-loving friend always uses for the most wicked horror films: "It'll make you feel really bad."

From the February 8-14, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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