The Silence Of The Lambs was more than just a good scary movie for me. It helped jump start my writing career. Writing a review of the film back in 1991 on the fly, I gave it to a friend, Kevin, who then passed it onto Richard Valley, the editor in chief of Scarlet Street Magazine. It was on the strength of that review that Richard gave me a job as a staff writer on the mag. So, it might sound weird to say that I really look back on Silence with some affection, but I do view this dark and frightening thriller as being an important stepping stone for me–thus, I’m very fond of it, far more than it being just a marvelous movie.
So when I heard that NBC was reviving Hannibal Lector, the central villain behind Silence, in a new series named after him, I treated this very notion with scorn. I thought Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox before him (in the equally superb Manhunter) had played the character to perfection. When I had the chance to view the first season of Hannibal on the Amazon Prime streaming service, I was prepared to scoff at it. But Mads Mikkelsen, having played a villain who bled tears in the James Bond remake of Casino Royale, brings a debonair coolness to his Lector, who is established as being a very dangerous man from the very first episode. But even knowing this, the viewer can’t help but be drawn to Mikkelsen’s brilliantly icy performance, like the proverbial moth drawn towards the flame.
Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham, the protagonist from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon (from which Michael Mann directed Manhunter) in what is supposed to be a prequel to Red Dragon, showing how these two characters first met. But viewers expecting to see an extremely faithful rendering of Harris’ books, or the films, will be in for a surprise. The writers of Hannibal seemingly make some drastic changes from the mythos established by Harris, all while staying true to the original characters; they create some fascinating drama, without resorting to soap opera clichés, and they even take us through a very dark and bloody journey, while thankfully avoiding the sordid voyeurism of dreck like Criminal Minds.
Some of the more ballsier changes in the series involve the sex-change of characters like Will’s friend and comrade Dr. Bloom and sleazy journalist Freddie Lounds from men into women. And it works very well. In the capable hands of Caroline Dhavernas, Dr. Alana Bloom is more than just a friend to Darcy’s Will, she’s a potential lover. But the writers aren’t content with just making Bloom a love interest; here she stands on her own as a strong character who seems unpredictable–but only because she comes across as a fully realized human being that doesn‘t always go with the flow. The new Freddie Lounds, well-played here by Lara Jean Chorostecki, almost makes you forget Stephen Lang’s memorable performance in Manhunter. Chorostecki imbues her Lounds with the sly cunning of a hustler who’s used to getting what she wants through heartless manipulation.
But the great manipulator remains Dr. Hannibal Lector. Not confined to an asylum, here he’s free to spread his ghastly will upon whoever he wishes, however he wishes–and it’s all because of his cold keen fascination with the people whom he interacts with; whether it’s the damaged Will, or his equally cool as a cucumber therapist–played by Gillian Anderson–it seems that all of the people whom Lector deals with are nothing more than toys for him to wind up and then set loose, and then he sits back and watches them crash into each other. And the amazing thing is when you get to the end of these thirteen enthralling episodes, you realize that the writers have artfully stayed within the realm of Harris’ world after all. Not only that, but they’ve also given you food for thought in the simple line: “Do you see now?”
Amazing stuff. Looking forward to having dinner with Lector again in the second season.