The third Hannibal Lecter film is an unorthodox and strange beast. It doesn’t quite live up to the previous two films, MANHUNTER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, on the whole; yet it feels like a natural cinematic progression that does the film franchise justice, yet falls short of the powerful impression the novel left.
The film is handicapped before it even leaves the gate with the recasting of Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling. The recasting really isn’t that catastrophic due to Scott’s ability to minimize Starling’s impact on the story and refocus the narrative on the title character and Gary Oldman’s grotesque and obscene performance as Mason Verger, a character so complex he quickly goes from victim to antagonist.
Over the course of the film, it’s an almost exhilarating journey watching Hopkins reprise his seminal role in a way that feels fresh, even though Hopkins has since worn his welcome out in that role. It’s a different Lecter, a reborn Lecter who has been living a new life, leaving his past behind him; or so he tries.
The transgressive nature of the film is a stark contrast to the soft aesthetic and alluring score, and beautiful Italian set pieces. The depravity the film slowly and softly sinks and is startling if you are paying attention. The homoeroticism between Oldman and Hopkins in a flashback, the feeding of the wild hogs, and the infamous Ray Liotta dinner scene are all prime examples of how subversive and disgusting the film can get.
While the ending of the film is a drastic change from the brilliant ending of Thomas Harris’ novel, it’s a sensible and cinematic ending, even though it runs the risk of not saying much, which almost hinders the film as a whole. The film isn’t great, and can feel worn out around some of its edges, but when it’s good, it is really good.