The hard truth is this: Brett Ratner’s a “for hire” director without any vision of his own. His background is in music videos and this has left him with the distinct inability to let things breathe or rest. A suspenseful story wilts under his eye because of this, and Red Dragon plays like warmed-over The Silence of the Lambs and/or Manhunter, depending on any given scene.
You know this story, the subject of the last chunk of episodes in Hannibal’s final season, a prior and better film adaptation, and divulged as verbal exposition for Claire in Lambs, Red Dragon doesn’t do anything special with the material. It’s two hours and never stops or ponders anything for very long. It feels like a longer, better film that’s been trimmed down and stripped bare for television syndication. So that means it’s a generic thriller that gets by the strength of the bare bones Thomas Harris’ story and the too talented cast occasionally slumming it here.
I wonder what this would look like under the guiding hand of Jonathan Demme, David Fincher, or any sort of director with an actual vision and this cast. Imagine the more moderate performance they’d nab from Anthony Hopkins, here he’s all camp and completely lost the edge and terror he brought to it originally, or from Edward Norton, who clearly wants to go for sweaty, nervous ball busting Method intensity but is muzzled from achieving this. And maybe we could’ve entirely missed out on Ellen Burstyn’s on-the-nose vocal cameo or found a better way to make it work that wasn’t so painfully, obnoxiously Freudian.
Red Dragon is serviceable, but if you really want to see this story done with justice then seek out Michael Mann’s stylish, expressionist film version or the back-half of Hannibal’s third/final season. They allow for silences, tension, and strange emotional textures to rise to the surface of the material. Red Dragon is a very good approximation of Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, but a good approximation is not the same thing as a good film.