To me, I find that Hannibal Lecter is a character best used sparingly. Of the three films within the original “Hannibal Trilogy” (though I’m loathed to call it that), “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” are my two favorite installments, both of which only feature Hannibal as a supporting player with limited screen time. I found the third installment, aptly named “Hannibal”, to be the least appealing. Well, “Hannibal Rising” is a prequel to that series, focusing completely on the title character. While that didn’t exactly appeal to my pallet, those of you who want Hannibal, Hannibal and more Hannibal will most likely enjoy this offering.
The story begins in Germany, 1941, at Castle Lecter. Young Hannibal (Aaron Thomas) and his family are forced to flee to a secluded shack in the wilderness to hide from bombarding Nazi forces. Hannibal’s parents are killed by enemy fire and he and his infant sister, Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska) are left alone in a horrible blizzard. They are soon taken prisoner by a group of Nazi war profiteers, who go mad with hunger and eat Mischa. Fast forward 8 years, and Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is now a disturbed young orphan who goes to live with his Aunt, Lady Murasaki (Li Gong). She trains him in the ways of the Samurai and Hannibal uses these skills to hunt down the men who killed his sister, gradually losing his grip on reality in the process.
I liked Hannibal better when all I knew about him was that he was an intelligent, professional man who went nuts and ate people. I found him much more chilling, believing he was relatively normal. Then this movie comes along, explaining he was once the heir to a wealthy family and then became a Samurai and turned into a serial killer, etc. As I said before, when it comes to Hannibal Lecter, less is more.
But that’s just me. I know there are plenty of people who want as much Hannibal as possible. Well, here’s your movie. And from that perspective, it honestly isn’t half bad. Hannibal’s origin is rather intriguing, if a bit over-the-top. I really could have done without that ridiculous Samurai bit, which I felt was the stupidest part of the entire film. Adding to that, the face mask of the Samurai armor just happens to look like the face mask he wears in “Silence of the Lambs” while all trust up at the asylum…ugh.
Ignoring that bit of idiocy, the main plot of Hannibal seeking vengeance upon those who ate his sister is very intriguing and fulfilling. There’s a subplot where a French detective, Inspector Popil (Dominic West), tries to find evidence to put Hannibal away, and while it adds some tension to the film, it takes a backseat to all the stuff Hannibal is doing. Also, with this being a prequel and all, you pretty much know how well Popil’s chase is going to go.
For a movie consisting mostly of unknowns, the acting is surprisingly good. Grutas (Rhys Ifans) portrays a very frightening villain, who feels no remorse for the things he did or the things he’s still doing. You find yourself rooting for Hannibal, which is strange, since you know he’s just a sick and twisted badguy-himself. Gaspard Ulliel was okay as the title character. At times, I felt he resembled Crispin Glover from “Back to the Future” more than he did Anthony Hopkins. His acting was a bit stiff and his line delivery could range from fine to cringe-worthy, but he carries the role well enough as not to ruin the movie.
Overall, “Hannibal Rising” isn’t a bad film, but from my point of view, an unnecessary one. Still, many would disagree, and for those who want to know everything there is to know about Hannibal Lecter, its right up your alley. I hope you enjoy the Samurai bits.