Movie Review – Hannibal Rising (2007)


Hannibal Rising

I think the worst reaction you can have to a creative piece of work, even worse than intense hatred, is complete apathy. At least with hatred, the work stirs some emotion and makes you feel something. With apathy, the most intense thing you experience is boredom. Unfortunately, apathy is exactly what I felt when watching Hannibal Rising, the latest offering in the Silence of the Lambs franchise.

The premise is simple enough: an exploration into the background of Hannibal Lecter, an “origin story,” if you will. We start with scenes of Hannibal as an eight year-old boy in Lithuania in the later years of World War II. Hannibal’s family is normal enough, but tragedy soon strikes, killing both of Hannibal’s parents and leaving him alone with his younger sister, Mischa. Soon, looters break into the house and horrible, unspeakable things happen. Don’t worry if you miss the beginning. The salient points will be reviewed via flashback at least twenty times during the course of the film. Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.

Later, we find a sixteen year-old Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) in an orphanage, plagued by nightmares and mute. When Hannibal seeks out his uncle in France, he finds his uncle dead, but his aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) takes him in. Hannibal swears revenge on the looters for what they have done, and his transformation from nervous boy to creepy man is nearly instantaneous.

The only reasonable reaction to Hannibal is apathy. While I will admit that the character is slightly sympathetic, that feeling is lost when we experience Hannibal’s overly cruel and capricious behavior. In the other films, Hannibal is more terrifying because he is random. We could easily imagine ourselves as his next victim. So, we don’t fear a Hannibal who is motivated solely by revenge. Though he may be bloodthirsty, he is only looking for particular victims. And finally, Ulliel’s portrayal of Hannibal is not without its charms, but, frankly speaking, he is no Anthony Hopkins.

Not only is Hannibal unsympathetic, but we cannot feel anything for his victims either. All of them are horrible human beings, almost as bad as Hannibal himself. When we hate both hunter and prey, what do we care about the outcome of their altercations? The only remotely sympathetic characters are Lady Murasaki, who vainly tries to serve as Hannibal’s conscience, and a completely ineffective police inspector (Dominic West). The film might be more interesting if there was some evidence that their urgings had some effect on Hannibal, that he had second thoughts about his crimes. But, Hannibal could not be deterred from his machinations.

This movie can’t even serve as a guilty pleasure because it is not laughably bad. The cinematography is perfectly fine, even good at points. The dialogue is acceptable. I didn’t spot any major plot holes. Even the acting can’t be lampooned. I have to admit that I was secretly hoping that all the characters would eventually die. But, unfortunately, I knew this was a prequel and that Hannibal still had three movies to make. So I just sighed, sat back in my chair, and watched the inevitable unfold.

1 1/2 stars


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