The Hannibal Lecter series is now one away from Rocky's total of six. Here's hoping they don't pull a Sylvester Stallone and make a sixth to avenge Hannibal Rising's mediocrity.
Wonder what Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) was like as a boy? Well, even as a youngster he had a keen interest in (eating) human anatomy, but as we see in Hannibal Rising, he wasn't born a cannibal. It all started in World War II Lithuania, where a young Hannibal is left an orphan after he watches his whole family die at the hands of war criminals. In the eight years that pass, only the hope of revenge has kept him afloat. After escaping the orphanage at which he was bullied, Hannibal finds his uncle's Japenese widow, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li), who lives in a similarly lonesome state. They strike up a very close bond in which she helps him tap into the memory of his family's death--most importantly, and painfully, his young sister's--while he more or less let's her live. Not the case for those who wronged him, but hot on Hannibal's murderous trail is a French inspector (Dominic West), who both sympathizes with and greatly fears the madman-child Lecter. And given that Anthony Hopkins has thrice played a grown-up Hannibal and Brian Cox once, everyone should know how this prequel ends.
With Anthony Hopkins having lent his unmistakable visage to his now iconic Lecter, no actor would be given a fair chance to do the same for a young Hannibal. Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement) often tries his darndest to contort his makeup-scarred face so that it, alone, will frighten viewers, but an actor either looks like a psychopath or doesn't; Hopkins, with the utmost respect, looks like a straightjacket escapee, whereas Ulliel looks like an over-exerting actor. Forced scowl aside, he's creepy as a near mute in the movie, but it's almost impossible to believe that this is the young man who would go on to become Hopkins' Lecter. Li (Miami Vice) looks incredible and easily 20 years younger than her actual age. She does what she can with her mysterious and emotionally stunted Lady Murasaki, but it's an odd character to begin with. In a supporting role, Englishman West (HBO's The Wire) adds a needed subtle performance and fits well alongside the past lawmen in the Hannibal series, and Rhys Ifans, as a villain, continues his trend of unpredictable role choices.
Hannibal Rising is astonishingly the fifth installment in a franchise that truly lost its luster after Silence of the Lambs and the neglected Manhunter. Of course, the franchise is only kaput if the latest doesn't make enough money, but this should have been stopped years agoat least as a movie series. As novels, the saga is much more sustainable because author Thomas Harris, who makes his Lecter screenplay debut with Rising, can get away with murder (no pun intended). But while Rising is far from over the top, director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Harris can't make the movie nearly as tense as any of its novel or film predecessors. Webber is an editor-turned-director, and it shows: The film is masterfully shot by Ben Davis (Layer Cake) and put together by the director, but once Webber gets down to the movie's blood and guts (pun intended this time) he can't deliver much excitement at all. Ultimately, Webber takes his restraint too far.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.