In "Hannibal," the highly anticipated sequel to 1991's "Silence of the Lambs," director Ridley Scott has placed one of the most heinous fictional characters in the film's sympathetic core. Picking up the narrative thread approximately 10 years after "Lambs," FBI special agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), whose entire life is dedicated to her work, is being used by the Bureau as a scapegoat for a botched drug raid. She gets reassigned to tracking down infamous mass murderer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist with an appetite for individuals he finds morally lacking. Having taken on a new identity as the curator of the Capone Library in Florence, Italy, Lecter is forced out into the open by Italian police detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), who hopes to collect the $3 million award being offered by Lecter's only surviving victim, convicted child molester and billionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). Verger, whose horrifically mutilated visage resulted from an intimate evening with his former psychiatrist, dreams of feeding Lecter alive to man-eating pigs. He knows that his best chance of capturing his prey is by using Starling as bait, which he accomplishes by enlisting the aid of her corrupt superior Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta).
Moore, who has the unenviable task of replacing Jodi Foster as the relentless Starling, quickly makes the role her own, while Hopkins's vivid performance of the eponymous character reveals a wider palette of complex emotions than in "Lambs."
At its supreme best, "Hannibal" is a voyage into the depths of existential horror. By pitting the cannibalistic yet principled Hannibal against the victimized yet amoral Verger, the film raises disturbing questions about the distinction between good and evil, implicating the audience in its own depravity. However, at its worst, the film's narrative crispness gets bogged down in a celebration of its own bloody gratuity. While an emotionally incomplete film, "Hannibal" nonetheless triumphs by convincing the audience to sympathize with one of cinema's most complex and disturbing antiheroes.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta and Gary Oldman. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha Schumacher. An MGM release. Horror/Thriller. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 131 min