- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

Fidelity usually is regarded as a virtue in movie adaptations. "Hannibal," now transposed to the screen in a faithfully portentous and loathsome distillation by director Ridley Scott, may be a conspicuous exception.
The third and probably final installment in a harrowing cycle of crime novels about serial killers and the FBI agents pursuing them, "Hannibal" seems to be one yarn too many where novelist Thomas Harris' prowess as a pulp bloodcurdler is concerned. Clearly, he has become too smug about making our skin crawl.
The title character, a notorious psychopathic psychiatrist from Baltimore named Hannibal Lecter, originated as a treacherous minor character in "Red Dragon," which Michael Mann filmed under the title "Manhunter" in 1986.
Lecter acquired a prominent, Academy Award-winning identity in Jonathan Demme's 1991 movie version of "The Silence of the Lambs." Anthony Hopkins gave the brainy fiend a freshly commanding aura of menace, so much so that ga-ga segments of the audience emerged with an unwholesome crush on Lecter, who added five new victims while escaping from captivity.
In "Silence," Lecter double-crossed Scott Glenn as Jack Crawford, head of the bureau's behavioral sciences division, and a trainee named Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, assigned to pick the doctor's devious brain about a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. Nevertheless, something lonely and aspiring in Starling seemed to touch a remnant of ordinary fondness and susceptibility in Lecter. You were left with the impression that she was the last person on earth he might try to harm.
The Oscar-winning collaborators on "Silence" Mr. Demme, Miss Foster, Mr. Hopkins and screenwriter Ted Tally waited almost a decade for Mr. Harris to complete a new book about Lecter and Starling. There seemed little doubt that they would be eager to reunite. After the publication, everyone except Mr. Hopkins begged off. Lecter had, of course, become Mr. Hopkins' acting property, and there was no mistaking the fact that the monster now rated box-office deference.
Having cooked him up and observed him become a household name, the author seemed loath to deny Hannibal anything. Hannibal had made his fortune. As a gesture of gratitude, Mr. Harris seemed to make Hannibal's snobberies his own, from taste in fine food and wine to taste in grisly weaponry. The author also went out of his way to award Clarice Starling to Hannibal Lecter.
The only significant point of departure in the new movie is the denouement. For some reason, the filmmakers can't quite stomach the idea of Starling as Lecter's consort, even though Julianne Moore, the replacement for Miss Foster, resembles a sleepwalker more often than not. Closing episodes are invented that duck the book's romantically depraved destination without improving the pervasive ghastliness. The film remains as infatuated and saturated with corruption as the book.
What spared "Manhunter" and "Silence" from a similar plunge was identification with the fundamentally decent law enforcement figures Starling and Crawford. Perhaps Mr. Harris finally is leveling with us about his preference for a mentally superior, condescending law-breaker.
"Hannibal" develops parallel plot lines about Lecter in Florence, Italy, where he is rather flimsily disguised as a scholar called Dr. Fell, and Starling at the bureau in Washington, where she is undermined by ignorant or craven colleagues. The intent is to force them together as targets of mutual avengers or tormentors.
One of Lecter's surviving victims, a wealthy wretch named Mason Verger, has hatched an elaborate kidnapping plan that involves Starling as bait and Sardinian wild boars as executioners. The treachery of a Justice Department creep named Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta in the kind of "comeback" role you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy), who has sold out to Verger, exposes Starling to disgrace and jeopardy.
Some minor characters and episodes are trimmed, but readers who longed to witness the showcase atrocities the hanging and disemboweling of a Lecter victim at the Palazzo Vecchio; the conditioning of wild boars to rend humans; and the dinner party where Lecter removes the skull of a victim and then feeds the benumbed captive some of his own exposed brain tissue should feel amply catered to. Moviegoers who might despise this form of catering should approach with caution and expect a poshly solemn, ponderous seance with depravity.

1 and 1/2 out of four stars
TITLE: "Hannibal"
RATING: R (Occasional profanity; graphic violence with exceptionally gruesome illustrative details; allusions to sexual depravity)
CREDITS: Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Thomas Harris.
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

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