Hannibal Rising (2007)

Hannibal Rising (click for larger image)Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Rhys Ifans, Li Gong, Dominic West, Aaron Thomas

Directed by Peter Webber

Nature vs. Nurture. Are we a product of the stimuli around us as we grow into adults, or is there something within us that shapes the people we become? Take a man like Hitler. Does someone like that wake up one day and decide that an entire race of people needs to be wiped off the face of the earth, or were there little moments in his life, here and there, that when put together created a man capable of such destruction? Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer … the list goes on. Do we dismiss these people as monsters, morally diseased individuals who can only be cut away from the rest of the world, or do we examine their existence to try and find what made them capable of such acts? More often than not, we seem to be a society that likes to cut out the cancer. Hannibal wields the knife.

Hannibal Lecter was a child when World War II reached his home and tore through his family like paper dolls. What happened next is something so horrific any man would crumble before it, much less a small boy already struggling to survive. But Hannibal does survive, the way that an animal would, becoming a creature not of action but of reaction. If someone were to try and push the boy, they wouldn’t just be pushed back … they would lose their hand in the exchange. Lessons must be learned the hard way, after all. Now Hannibal has come home, in a sense, into the arms of the only family he has left. He has grown strong with a wicked intellect to back it up but is forced to relive his childhood terrors every night in his dreams. There is only one way to quiet the screams. Revenge.

Hannibal Rising (click for larger image)Gaspard Ulliel plays Lecter as a young man obsessed with medical science, a talented artist, skilled fighter and a bit too fond of the taste of blood. Remember the last time you walked to your door late at night, the frozen ground crunching under your feet, those sounds the only thing piercing the crisp air as you slowed your steps to take it all in? There is beauty in such simple moments. This is how Lecter seems to move from scene to scene, observing the world around him, lost in every moment whether it be spent sketching at a lakeside or torturing his newest prey. Ulliel sends a look of peaceful glee across his face as he commits the most violent acts, not yet possessing the almost monk-like calm of the adult Lecter, but a more excited, younger version.

Ulliel pulls it off, walking silently into a room as if lost in thought until he strikes with deadly precision. He is at once sympathetic and frightful in his acts. Lecter is flanked by two characters who act as devices to spell out how you should feel about him in case you don’t get it on your own. Li Gong plays Lady Murasaki, who understands Lecter’s pain and hopes he will find peace before his soul is lost. She represents the little shred of humanity still left in him. The role is handled well though it always seemed as if something is missing, so she appears rather one-dimensional. Perhaps the director sought to portray Lady Murasaki as someone as damaged as Lecter but still able to love, but it just doesn’t come across well. Next we have Inspector Pascal Popil (West), who seeks justice against war criminals, much like Lecter, but with much less bloodshed. Popil identifies Lecter’s monstrous potential early on but does little to stop it. This reduces the character to that guy who stands there exclaiming, “He is INHUMAN!” While the actor is believable in the role, there is just very little meat for him to chew on (no Lecter pun intended), so he is reduced to a sort of sidekick role.

Hannibal Rising (click for larger image)Finally we have the evil men who shaped Lecter’s future, lead by Vladis Grutas (Ifans). These men need to be depicted as more horrible than the being Lecter is forced to become to hunt them down, and the story does its best to create a future for them full of atrocities they must pay for, at times to a laughable extent. These are men who kick puppies. FOR SHAME!! Actually the bulk of them are a little more creepy than that, but there is a point where you reach overkill, and that was done here. Grutas comes off as a typical Lethal Weapon grade bad guy and not the despicable, frightening being Lecter remembers in his night terrors. Having seen Ifans in several movies, I know he is capable of so much more, which makes this role a bit of a letdown.

Hannibal Rising is a slick and horrifying ride you are forced to experience at the edge of a knife. Washed out scenes ease your senses in counterpoint to high contrast visuals depicting the worst things human beings are capable of. Director Peter Webber spins this tale at a fantastic pace, leaving no dead spots even when filling in the blanks. You’ll love watching Hannibal as his movements gain purpose, and every moment is treated as almost ritualistic. You can feel the man emerging, the ascendance of the creature he will become. The story also stays true to the original Silence of the Lambs in that the horrors you witness are less about full-on gore sprayed across your face but the delicate care Hannibal takes to do the most terrible things and their blood-soaked results. Watching the reaction Lecter has to each satisfying crunch is practically a guilty pleasure, unless you are a hard core horror fan, in which case I dare you not to smile back at him.

Hannibal Rising is the disturbing tale of the man becoming the legend we all hoped it could be. In a time when we are inundated with flashy Hollywood PG-13 fests laden with the beautiful supporting cast of The OC, Hannibal Rising strikes a bargain with its creators in that it keeps the attractive exterior but allows its innards to rot. This is a tale of a boy bound by duty to become a man more frightening than any sickening thing the world could throw at him. Don’t look away for a minute.

4 out of 5

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